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After Montana rabbi retired, a life in politics began

The Forward - 5 hours 17 min ago
Rabbi Ed Stafman was looking for a way to stay active in the community, so he ran for the state legislature — and won.

Shell shock: Why were turtles hardly eaten in the Levant 10,000 years ago?

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 23:49
Hoping to inquire into human-turtle relations in prehistory, a study finds spotty evidence of turtle consumption in the East Mediterranean – and it wasn’t because they were hard to catch

Biden freezes sale of stealth jets to UAE, according to report

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 23:06

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden froze the sale of stealth jets to the United Arab Emirates, removing at least for now a key Trump administration incentive to the Emirates to normalize relations with Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal reported Wednesday that the Biden administration had frozen arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It quoted an official as saying that such freezes to review a previous administration’s arms deals are routine. However, Biden also campaigned on rolling back U.S. support for the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and UAE forces have backed the government.

Additionally, Biden has said that he wants to tamp down tensions in Yemen as a means of drawing Iran into resuming its full observance of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump in 2018 pulled out of the deal, but Biden says the 2015 agreement is the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, said the deal trading sanctions relief for a rollback of nuclear capabilities was not strong enough.

The Trump administration negotiated the sale of the F-35 stealth jets separately from its brokering of the Abraham Accords, which normalize relations between Israel and four Arab states, including the UAE. However, it was clear from administration statements that the jets sale was an incentive.

The accords are signed and underway. It’s not clear how the freeze on the jets sale would affect them.

The post Biden freezes sale of stealth jets to UAE, according to report appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Drawing the Palestinians close, drawing Israel closer: Biden administration unrolls Middle East policy

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 23:00

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Statements and appearances by U.S. officials suggest the Biden administration’s emerging Mideast strategy: reassuring Israel while resuming ties with the Palestinians ruptured by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, the acting ambassador to the United Nations outlined plans to reverse Trump administration policies concerning the Palestinians.

“The Biden administration will restore credible U.S. engagement with Palestinians as well as Israelis,” Richard Mills said at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the first such appearance since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

Mills, a career diplomat, is acting as U.N. envoy until the Senate confirms Biden’s nominee.

“This will involve renewing U.S. relations with the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, relations which have atrophied over the last four years,” Mills said. “President Biden has been clear in his intent to restore U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people and to take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed by the last U.S. administration.”

Reassurance came Wednesday, when Biden’s nominee for U.N. ambassador told senators that she would maintain some of the pro-Israel policies advanced by Trump.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield said at her confirmation hearing that America would robustly push back against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.

“I look forward to standing with Israel, standing against the unfair targeting of Israel, the relentless resolutions that are proposed against Israel unfairly,” she said.

Her remarks recalled one of the final acts of the Obama administration, when it allowed through a Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policies. The Senate roundly condemned President Obama’s failure to veto the resolution. Trump’s U.N. ambassadors went on to use U.S. influence to nix pro-Palestinian moves at the body.

Biden has indicated that he wants to repair ties between Israel and Democrats strained by tensions between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations. Notably, some of the most pointed pro-Israel questions at Thomas-Greenfield’s hearing came from Democrats who are close to Biden, like Chris Coons of Connecticut, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Ben Cardin of Maryland.

There remain more differences between the Biden and Netanyahu administrations than there were under Trump, but Biden is striving to tamp down Israeli anxieties about his revival of some Obama-era policies, when he served as vice president. For instance, Biden wants to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu reviles, but says he will do so in consultation with Israel. Obama cut out Israel until the last phase of the negotiations.

Biden campaigned on restoring ties with the Palestinians, but it won’t be easy to reverse Trump’s policies, which included shutting down diplomatic relations and severing assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Biden must deal with a law passed by Congress that denies funding for the Palestinians as long as the Palestinian Authority pays families of Palestinians who killed Israeli and American civilians. Another law makes it hard for a president to allow the Palestinians to reopen an office in Washington unless the P.A. agrees not to seek charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

Trump also shut down a dedicated consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Reopening that office could face resistance from the Israeli government and the municipality.

At the same time, Biden officials are seeking to reassure Israel that they will sustain some of the tone and substance of changes carried out under Trump.

In one of his first statements Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, described his first conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben Shabbat. They “discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalization arrangements with [the United Arab Emirates], Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco,” Sullivan said.

Thomas-Greenfield said she would build on the normalization agreements, called the Abraham Accords, to encourage those countries to change their approach at the United Nations and take an active role in countering anti-Israel actions there.

“If they’re going to recognize Israel in the Abraham Accords, they need to recognize Israel at the United Nations,” she said.

Thomas-Greenfield also denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

“The actions and the approach that BDS has taken toward Israel is unacceptable,” she said. “It verges on anti-Semitism and it is important that they not be allowed to have a voice at the United Nations.”

The Obama administration also opposed BDS, but unlike the Trump administration did not make it a front-and-center issue, nor did it liken the movement to anti-Semitism.

The post Drawing the Palestinians close, drawing Israel closer: Biden administration unrolls Middle East policy appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In Holocaust memorial day speech, Lithuanian lawmaker says Jews and communists share blame

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:53

(JTA) — In an unusual move, the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania accused a local senior lawmaker of distorting the history of the Holocaust and blaming Jews for it.

Robert Gilchrist, who took up the post in February last year, made the accusation following a speech Wednesday by Valdas Rakutis, a member of the Seimas, Lithuania’s parliament, and chairman of its commission on historical memory.

“There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures,” Rakutis said in the speech, which took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “We need to name these people out loud and try not to have people like them again.”

Rakutis also said that two wartime collaborators with Nazi Germany, Kazys Škirpa and Jonas Noreika, were not to blame for the fact that more than 95% of Lithuanian Jewry was murdered, mostly by locals and often by followers of the two leaders.

The speech prompted rare recrimination from the U.S. ambassador, as well as from advocates who monitor anti-Semitism in the region.

“It is shocking that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, a member of Seimas should espouse distortions regarding Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania and shamefully seek to accuse Jews of being the perpetrators,” Gilchrist wrote on Twitter under the official account for the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.

Efraim Zuroff, director of Eastern European affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a statement said: “Rakutis has clearly demonstrated that he is totally unsuited to head the Seimas committee on national memory, unless lying about Lithuanian history is the main requirement for the post.”

The post In Holocaust memorial day speech, Lithuanian lawmaker says Jews and communists share blame appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Conservative Jewish leaders condemn Israel’s rejection of Ugandan Jews from immigrating

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:47

(JTA) — American Jews with ties to a small community of Jews in Uganda are condemning the Israeli Interior Ministry’s decision to reject the right of those Jews to immigrate to Israel.

The ministry was responding to a Supreme Court petition by Kibita Yosef, a Ugandan Jew who had requested to make aliyah.

Yosef, who converted to Judaism in 2008 under the auspices of the Conservative movement, first applied to immigrate to Israel while studying in a yeshiva there under the Law of Return. The law allows all Jews, including those who have converted, to become citizens.

But the Interior Ministry, which handles citizenship, rejected Yosef’s application, according to Haaretz. Yosef has appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to make its decision next week and could overrule the ministry.

The conflict could have potential consequences for Jews worldwide.

“We’re profoundly disappointed by the Interior Ministry’s decision,” said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, which has a longstanding relationship with the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda. “We see it as a profound insult to the Conservative movement.”

The Abayudaya began practicing Judaism in 1919 after a Ugandan leader, Semei Kakungulu, declared himself a Jew and began adopting Jewish practices. In 2002, the Conservative movement began overseeing official conversions in the community. 

The Ugandan community is affiliated with the Masorti Olami, the international organization representing Conservative communities worldwide, and is home to a chapter of Marom, a Conservative movement youth group. Gershom Sizomu later became the first Ugandan rabbi after his ordination at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, the Conservative movement’s seminary in Los Angeles. A woman from the community, Shoshanna Nambi, is now a rabbinical student at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 

Blumenthal said he had visited the community in Uganda and seen “the vibrancy of their Jewish life” and “a deep love of Israel and the Jewish people.” The Jewish Agency, the paragovernmental organization in Israel that facilitates and encourages immigration to Israel, has recognized the Jewishness of Ugandan Jews. 

But the Interior Ministry, which has the final say over matters of citizenship and is run by Aryeh Deri, head of the haredi Orthodox Shas party, has taken a different approach.

In a court document this summer, the ministry established a new policy on “emerging” Jewish communities like the Abayudaya, Haaretz reported. According to the policy, these communities would not be eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return, which says that those who convert to Judaism in a “recognized” Jewish community are eligible to immigrate.

Yosef, whose immigration status is in question, is being represented by the Israeli Religious Action Center.

The ultimate ruling in his case could have far-ranging ramifications for Jews living outside of Israel. 

“Part of this is a battle for who gets to define Judaism,” said Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

The validity of conversion by non-Orthodox rabbis, and even by Orthodox rabbis who do not meet the standards of the haredi Orthodox Israeli Chief Rabbinate, has been a contentious subject for years. Converts to Judaism who move to Israel whose conversions are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate cannot marry in Israel, for the Chief Rabbinate controls marriages. Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel have not been recognized for years.

While the Yosef decision may not immediately impact the potential immigration status of non-Orthodox converts in established Jewish communities, the rejection of the Ugandan community’s conversions could cast doubt on other conversions performed by those same Conservative rabbis.

“Let’s be clear that denying that the Abayudaya are authentically Jewish is on some level saying that my rabbinical school isn’t an authentic rabbinical school and it’s saying that I’m not an authentic rabbi,” said Artson, who was involved in the conversion of hundreds of Ugandan Jews.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization, condemned the Interior Ministry’s position on the Yosef case as “pure racism.”

“I’m very proud that the Conservative Movement, to which I belong, has forged a strong relationship w/this community, including ordaining a rabbi & fighting for community’s rights in Israel,” she wrote in a tweet. “This is pure racism on the part of the state. The High Court must do the right thing.”

Asked whether the decision had to do with race, Artson said he wasn’t sure what the “inner motivations” were of the ministry.

“But it certainly has the appearance of racism,” he said.

Blumenthal said the decision to reject Yosef’s claim would only further divide American Jews from Israel.

“It’s one more example of a wedge that the Israeli government is driving between some in Israel and the Jewish people outside Israel,” he said.

The post Conservative Jewish leaders condemn Israel’s rejection of Ugandan Jews from immigrating appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Angela Merkel participates in historic Torah scroll writing ceremony

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:43

(JTA) — Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel observed the finishing of a refurbished Torah scroll in an event marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Berlin on Wednesday.

The 18th century Sulzbacher Torah, which survived the National Socialist Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 and lay unnoticed for decades in a cabinet in a synagogue in Amberg, Bavaria, was brought back to ritually usable condition thanks to a 45,000 euro donation from the German federal government. In June, the Torah will be used once again for services in the Amberg synagogue.

In the Reflection and Prayer Room in the Reichstag, or German parliament building, Merkel sat by as Shaul Nekrich, rabbi of the city of Kassel, inscribed the final 12 letters of the scroll. The chancellor, who will step down following national elections in September, was among several dignitaries who took part in the ceremony.

This was one of several events in Germany marking the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Public events marking Holocaust Remembrance Day were drastically scaled back, many of them going online due to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Today’s ceremony was broadcast on the German parliament’s website.

The Sulzbacher Torah had lain forgotten until 2015, when Rabbi Elias Dray found it in the shrine of the Amberg synagogue, where he officiates. Written for the synagogue in nearby Sulzbach, Bavaria, it had been moved to Amberg in 1934, one year after Hitler took power. It was there unnoticed there for some 70 years.

The only damage was due to the “ravages of time,” according to a statement from the Conference of European Rabbis. “Many of the letters… had faded.” The local Jewish community could not afford the costs of restoration. Bavarian member of parliament Barbara Lanzinger, who is Catholic, was able to secure German federal funding.

The restoration was carried out by Jehuda Freund in Bnei Brak, Israel, and the Torah was kept temporarily at the Jewish Museum Berlin before today’s completion ceremony.

Dray, who like Nekrich is a member of Germany’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference, described the ceremonial completion of the Torah in the German Bundestag as “a moving and historic moment.”

The Torah “survived the darkest times in German history,” he said in the statement. “With its ceremonial completion by the highest constitutional authorities, the Sulzbach Torah scroll symbolises a new pact to protect Jewish life in Germany and to make it possible in the long term.”

Among those participating in the event were Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, who survived the Holocaust in hiding in Germany; Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany; German politician Marina Weisband, whose Jewish family emigrated from Ukraine to Germany in 1994; and Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble.

The post Angela Merkel participates in historic Torah scroll writing ceremony appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

This Dutch village is finally ready to tell its unique Holocaust rescue story

JTA - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:42

NIEUWLANDE, Netherlands (JTA) — On a cold February morning in 1945, a Dutch Nazi SS unit noticed a foreign-looking man walking around a farm in this remote village.

The Nazis confronted farm owner Jan van der Helm and gunned him down when he tried to escape. They discovered five Jews in hiding on the farm, and beat one of them, Szaya Reiner, to death in front of his wife, two sons and his nephew. The remaining four got sent to a concentration camp and eventually survived the Holocaust.

The murder of van der Helm, a father of two, was a shocking tragedy for the close-knit rural community of Nieuwlande.

Yet the raid could have gone much worse for the village.

Unbeknownst to the Nazis, van der Helm’s farm was merely the tip of the iceberg of an almost unique collective rescue operation. Nearly all the 700-odd residents of Nieuwlande were involved in hiding and saving hundreds of Jews as well as resistance fighters and German deserters.

In 1985, Nieuwlande (pronounced “new landuh”) became one of only two locales honored collectively by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum for rescuing Jews, alongside Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France.

The French village has become the stuff of legend, with the first documentary film about it appearing in 1987, followed by several others. A museum was constructed there more than a decade ago.

But partly because of the aversion of its largely Protestant population to self-praise, Nieuwlande has remained largely unknown even inside the Netherlands. The Dutch National Holocaust Museum has had no exhibitions about it and the Dutch Resistance Museum has devoted exactly eight words to the rescue operation on its website.

With the exception of a silent reenactment done immediately after World War II, there have been no documentary films made about Nieuwlande, which, unlike Chambon, doesn’t even have an entry in the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Yet the wartime history of Nieuwlande encapsulates the broader story of the Holocaust in the Netherlands. 

It has world’s second-highest number of documented saviors of Jews, but also had many collaborators who, aided by the topography and Holland’s proximity to Germany, helped the Nazis achieve in the kingdom the highest death rate among Jews anywhere in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Of 140,000 Dutch Jews, more than 100,000 were murdered.  

The first museum showcasing the Nieuwlande rescue was opened in 2018 by volunteers at an old school, donated for the cause by the local municipality. It has received about 5,000 visitors so far.

“Telling the story is saying that what happened here was extraordinary, yet to many of the rescuers and their families it was too self-evident to celebrate,” said Hanneke Rozema, a Nieuwlande resident and one of the museum’s founders. “I think it’s part of the reason the story’s relatively not very well known.”

Facilitating the rescue operation was Nieuwlande’s sprawling layout, which is unusual in a densely populated country where land is precious because so much of it needed to be reclaimed from the rivers and sea.

In 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Nieuwlande was little more than 150 farmhouses spaciously arranged along a road and separated by ditches. Devoid of a real center, Nieuwlande’s layout betrayed very little of the secret action going on in its farmhouses to patrolling Germans, police and the Landwacht, the SS detachment to which van der Halm’s killers belonged.

“It was a good place for resistance work,” Rozema said. “People didn’t know necessarily exactly what was happening on their neighbor’s farm, and many of them didn’t particularly want to know, either.”

One Jewish boy, a former classmate of Anne Frank named Sally Kimel, lived for a year in a Nieuwlande farmhouse without knowing that his uncle, aunt and two nephews were hiding less than a mile away. They were the family of Szaya Reiner, the Jew who was beaten to death. Sally was reunited with them shortly before the SS raid.

The leaders of the rescue operation, a gardener named Arnold Douwes and farmer Johannes Post, and other members of the resistance made dugouts in the woods just beyond the line of houses where Jews could lay low if a raid was coming. In recent years, one such dugout was restored. It’s a wartime monument but it’s accessible at all times and children from the surrounding houses like to play in the dugout’s short tunnels.

Nieuwlande, which has doubled in population since 1940, does have more of a center today, where a monument to the rescuers resembles a dugout. Its facade features a framed copy of the Hebrew-language Yad Vashem certificate honoring Nieuwlande. The bunker’s interior echoes with the chime of bells from a nearby church, which, unusually for Dutch villages these days, toll on the hour.

Faith played an important role in the rescue operation, according to Haim Roet, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who spent at least two months in hiding in Nieuwlande.

“The rescuers were mostly religious people, some very religious, and I think this played an important role in their actions,” Roet, a father of three from Jerusalem who immigrated to Israel in 1949, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 

Two Jewish teenagers, Lou Gans and Isidoor Davids, spent much of the Holocaust living under the floorboards of a former church in Nieuwlande, whose building is adjacent to the museum. There they produced a hand-written newspaper, “De Duikelaar,” Dutch for “the person in hiding.” Complete with caricatures of Nazi politicians and anecdotes about life underground, the 10-page publication would be distributed among the people in hiding.

Only two copies remain, and one of them is on display at the museum, which is named after their paper. Both teenagers survived the war and remained in the Netherlands. They both died in recent years.

People hiding in Nieuwlande enjoyed varying degrees of freedom. Douwes and Post came up with a code that classified the guests according to gender, age and how Jewish they looked.

One of the heroes of the Nieuwlande rescue operation was a Jew named Max Leons, who by his own account looked “very Jewish.” He sought refuge in Nieuwlande but took an increasingly active role in the resistance, including going on undercover missions that were far more dangerous for him than someone with more typically Aryan looks. He died in 2019.

The leaders could be tough on their charges and fellow rescuers, aware as they were that the whole village would pay the price if the operation was discovered. During Roet’s stay in Nieuwlande, one Jewish woman with mental health issues insisted on walking down the village’s main road in violation of security protocol.

She later stole from the family that hid her and Douwes reportedly considered killing her because her behavior was risking the lives of multiple people and she couldn’t be trusted to keep the village’s secrets if she were banished, Roet said. He does not know how the story ended.

Similarly, Douwes became furious when some Jews in hiding mailed Yiddish-language letters to their relatives in Amsterdam — which could have tipped off the Nazis who were monitoring the mail.

Douwes was very determined and unusual, according to Bob Moore, a Holocaust scholar  from the United Kingdom. A Calvinist pastor’s son, he spent the 1930s wandering the United States and Canada as a vagabond. 

In 2018, Moore and his Dutch colleague Johannes Ten Cate published an annotated edition of the diary Douwes kept during World War II. Titled “The Secret Diary of Arnold Douwes,” it is one of the only diaries anywhere by a rescuer, Moore said in a lecture about it last year.

Writing it violated Douwes’ own safety protocol, Moore said. To mitigate the risk, Douwes put each entry in a jar and buried it, retrieving it only after the war.

Douwes was honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1983, but threatened to burn down a tree that was planted in his honor at the Israeli memorial site unless his whole village was recognized as well. In 1988, Yad Vashem dedicated a monument to honor the village.

Douwes married Jet Reichenberger, a Jewish woman he helped rescue. They lived in South Africa for a while until Douwes insisted they move because he couldn’t bear to live under apartheid, he told Roet. In the 1950s, the couple settled in Israel, where they had three daughters. They eventually divorced and Douwes returned to the Netherlands. He died in 1999 at the age of 93. 

In a rare 1985 interview about his actions with the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, a regional paper, Douwes said: “I did it all because I had no other choice.”


The post This Dutch village is finally ready to tell its unique Holocaust rescue story appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Haaretz cartoon

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:31

How can a society apologize?

The Forward - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:20
A Rabbi Asks Whether America Can Bridge ‘the Sea of Society and the River of Time’ to Atone for Its Sins

Blinken holds first call with Israeli foreign minister after confirmation as Biden’s secretary of state

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:18
Call between Blinken and Ashkenazi is second high-level one between U.S. and Israeli officials in the week since Inauguration Day – while Netanyahu has yet to get a call from President Biden

Remote work is getting Israelis out of central Israel

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 22:15
In terms of encouraging people to move, the pandemic has succeeded where decades of government policy have failed

Israel's state aid lifted only 1 in 50 self-employed above poverty line

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 21:59
Some 25,000 self-employed people and their family members fell into poverty in Israel in 2020

Airport shutdown in response to the pandemic is likely to cause package delivery delays

Haaretz - Wed, 2021-01-27 21:49
The airports authority says there shouldn’t be a problem with cargo flights and therefore shipping times shouldn’t be impacted, but shipping companies say some packages arrive on passenger flights
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