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Closing of East Bay federation reflects changing fortunes in Northern California

Fri, 2019-05-17 20:39

SAN FRANCISCO (J. The Jewish Weekly of Northern California via JTA) — The Jewish federation serving Northern California’s East Bay will dissolve on July 1, with core programs and operations to be absorbed into the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

The closing will end a run of more than a century for the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, a philanthropy that serves Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties.

According to “Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities,” a large-scale demographic study published a year ago, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Jewish community is the fourth largest in the United States, with some 350,000 Jews and 123,000 non-Jews living in 148,000 households. A third of them live in the East Bay, totaling 122,000 in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano Counties.

Despite a growing Jewish population and numerous thriving synagogues, other Jewish institutions have struggled in the region. The Contra Costa County JCC abruptly closed its doors in 2011, although it still exists as a “JCC without walls.” Tehiyah Jewish Day School north of Berkeley shuttered last year, and the Reutlinger Community, the East Bay’s largest Jewish senior residence and assisted living center, announced in March that it would be taken over later this year by a nondenominational Sacramento-based nonprofit.

As part of the takeover by San Francisco’s Federation and Endowment Fund, the East Bay’s Jewish Community Foundation will transfer $136 million in managed assets and operations.

“It’s not a merger, because it’s not two organizations coming together,” said Danny Grossman, CEO of the San Francisco federation, in a conference call with J. senior staff. “One is going out of business, and the other is saying, ‘how can we work together.’”

Grossman said the plan would be to add new representatives from the East Bay to the San Francisco federation’s board, endowment committee and investment committee.

East Bay Foundation director Lisa Tabak said key community priorities such as Jewish summer camps and youth Israel trips can continue to count on financial support. “All our designated and special interest funds will still be honored,” she said.

The East Bay Federation began life in 1918 as the Jewish Welfare Federation, before the bay Bridge linked the region. Before ceasing operations, the organization will mark its centennial at a June 19 celebration.

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Police now probing 3 fires at 2 Boston-area Chabad houses

Fri, 2019-05-17 20:29

BOSTON (JTA) — One week, two Chabad centers, three fires.

Police in the Boston area have opened a multi-jurisdictional probe after a fire was reported at the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham, Massachusetts, just one hour after a fire was reported at the Arlington home and Chabad house of Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his family.

That brings to three the number of suspicious fires since last Saturday night, when a blaze damaged outside shingles at the Bukiets’ home. The house in Arlington was hit again on Thursday night, about an hour before the incident in Needham, about an hour away.

Local and state law enforcement and fire officials are coordinating their investigations, and including the possibility that the fires are hate crimes.

The Needham Chabad is the residence of Rabbi Mendy Krinsky and his family. No one was hurt in the fires and the damage was minimal.

Arlington’s acting chief of police, Julie Flaherty, addressed the local media at a news conference Friday at the town’s Police Department. The fires, set on the shingles on the outside of both homes, are similar in nature.   

“We can’t rule out that they are connected,” Flaherty said, standing among more than 15 local and state officials, Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, other Chabad leaders and representatives from Boston’s Jewish community.

John Schlittler, chief of police from Needham, said his town’s investigation is being conducted in coordination with the State Police. One local media outlet reported that the state’s joint terrorism task force, which includes federal agents, is assisting in the investigation.

A $15,000 reward was announced by Robert Trestan, direction of the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, adding to a $5,000 reward by the state’s fire marshal, for information that leads to a conviction in the fires.  

“It is important for this to be resolved quickly,” Trestan urged, saying that the attacks are not just on Jewish houses of worship but on the rabbis’ homes.

Earlier in the day, Chanie Krensky of the Needham Chabad center described on Facebook her fright when she smelled smoke outside her home and how Rabbi Krensky extinguished the fire before the fire alarm was set off.

“Somebody out there wants to hurt us. Just because we exist. And that is frightening. Hate can’t be reasoned with. Hate just needs to be eradicated. A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness,” she wrote.

“The Jewish community is unified” in standing together against these attacks, Jeremy Burton, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said at the Friday news conference.

State Police spokesman David Procopio confirmed that his agency’s Fire Investigation Unit and Fusion Center are assisting in the investigation, as are troopers and federal agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

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Israeli TV show set on an Army base adapted for US network

Fri, 2019-05-17 19:24

(JTA) — The Paramount cable network has ordered 10 episodes of “68 Whiskey,” a comedy-drama based on a popular Israeli series called “Charlie Golf One.”

“68 Whiskey” will focus on a multicultural group of Army medics stationed at a base in Afghanistan nicknamed The Orphanage. It is, according to the network’s description, “a dangerous and Kafkaesque world that leads to self-destructive appetites, outrageous behavior and occasionally a profound sense of purpose.”

“Charlie Golf One” is also about a battalion aid station. Its facility is the most desirable place on a desert army base if for no other reason other than it is air conditioned. There is plenty of “M*A*S*H”-type humor to go around.

“Charlie Golf One” originated at Israel’s Yes TV network, where the Netflix hit “Fauda” aired. It had a successful 40-show run and is currently in production for its second season.

At Paramount, “68 Whiskey” will be written by Roberto Benabib, the Emmy-nominated creative force behind the Showtime hit “Weeds” and the HBO series “The Brink.” Zion Rubin, who created the Israeli series, will executive produce.

Here’s the trailer for “Charlie Golf One”:

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Democrats say the GOP refuses to acknowledge anti-Semitism on the far right

Fri, 2019-05-17 19:18

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two of the most powerful Republicans in the land, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are on the anti-Semitism case.

In a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday, the two leaders describe a “rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world” and note the recent deadly synagogue shooting attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, saying “that the frequency of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States is near a four-decade high.”

Their prescription is passage of a bill that would make it easier for states to ban business with entities that back the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, or BDS.

It might seem a jarring segue considering that the greatest physical threat that American Jews have faced recently has been from white supremacists. But Republicans are seeing the focus on anti-Israel activity as good politics. The anti-BDS measures as not only popular with the pro-Israel community but a handy way to beat up on Democrats who are wary of the measures on free speech grounds.

Democrats are seizing on what they say is cognitive dissonance, a Republican eagerness to confront anti-Semitism, as long as one does not name its most dangerous purveyors, white nationalists.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the Jewish chairman of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, convened a hearing Wednesday on the topic addressed to the Trump administration. The focus: Why is Trump rolling back Department of Homeland Security programs targeting white supremacists even as attacks are on the rise?

“The Trump administration is not correctly naming the problem and is not correctly addressing it either,” Raskin said. “This dilution and disorientation of the concept of terrorism has important resource and budget considerations.”

Susan Bro, mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer, greets Rep. Jamie Raskin before the start of a hearing on confronting white supremacy at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 15, 2019. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Linked to the Republican leaders’ line about the four-decade high in anti-Semitic incidents is an Anti-Defamation League report that blames most of the violence on white supremacists. Yet “white supremacist,” white nationalist” or even “extreme right” do not appear in the op-ed by the Kentucky senator and California representative.

That’s in line with parts of a pro-Israel community that wants to keep the focus on the anti-Israel activity that it says is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. Israel sees BDS as a threat, and so does much of the organized American Jewish community.

Republicans are aggressively trying to attach the taint of anti-Semitism to Democrats, and have been assisted to a degree by a handful of Democrats on the party’s left who have been caught saying things that are at least insensitive to the realities of Jewish history and at worst invoke anti-Semitic slanders. The latest manifestation of Republicans instrumentalizing Israel criticism by Democrats into allegations of anti-Semitism was the distortion of an awkwardly expressed sentiment about the Holocaust by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

In their op-ed, McConnell and McCarthy announced a bid to force the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats are in the majority, to vote on anti-BDS measures that many (not all) Democrats revile. Hardly any Democrats back BDS, but many fear that such anti-BDS bills inhibit free speech. Republicans insist these are spurious fears.

“Both of us are committed champions of the First Amendment and recognize that any state and local action would need to carefully balance individuals’ freedom of speech and expression with the public’s right not to be co-opted into bankrolling an anti-Semitic boycott,” the Republican leaders wrote.

(A proliferation of court decisions and the subsequent rewriting of some of the laws suggest that at least in their initial applications, the anti-BDS laws passed in about half the states are problematic.)

The bid to force a vote is just the latest GOP effort to embarrass Democrats on the BDS issue (and it appears to be working — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told The Hill that he hopes to advance anti-BDS legislation soon.) President Donald Trump, who joined in the Tlaib bashing, routinely calls Democrats “anti-Jewish” because of the real disagreements within the party on how to treat Israel.

Exploiting such rifts is fair game in politics, and the GOP targeting Democrats on BDS makes political sense. But some are asking why Republicans, chief among them Trump, are so reluctant to name white supremacists as a problem.

After a white supremacist killed 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, Trump said he did not think white supremacism was a big problem.

“I think it’s a small group of people who have very serious problems,” he said.

The Trump administration also baffled the civil rights community recently by refusing to sign on to the “Christchurch Call” to curb online extremism, following the deadly attack on mosques in New Zealand.

“It is incredibly discouraging that the U.S. government seems unwilling to even take part in these discussions and explore possibilities to counter this scourge,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said.

At Raskin’s hearing, explanations about the Trump administration’s retreats from dealing with white nationalists were not immediately forthcoming; FBI and Homeland Security officials asked for a delay to compile their responses. Raskin will convene a hearing to hear them on June 4.

Wednesday’s witnesses included Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was run down and killed by a white supremacist during a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017; Michael German, a former FBI agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups; and George Selim, the senior vice president of programs at the ADL.

“Instead of scaling up to meet the threat, the government seems to be scaling down,” Selim said.

The only mildly dissident witness was Robby Soave, the associate editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, who argued that the seeming increase in attacks might be the result of better reporting.

Raskin’s hearing showed Democratic determination to keep the anti-Semitism ball in the GOP court. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who is Jewish, and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Muslim (and the target of Republicans for her own forays into anti-Semitic tropes and backing for BDS) joined in an op-ed in calling on the Trump administration to confront white supremacism.

And at a Jewish American Heritage Month event near the Capitol this week, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said addressing anti-Semitism “means calling out the president of the United States when he engages in his racist behavior — even more when [Republicans] don’t stand up whether in Charlottesville, or in a church bombing, or a shooting in a temple.”

A clue as to why Republicans might resist naming the threat came in the opening remarks of Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, the ranking Republican on Raskin’s subcommittee. He said the problem of white nationalism was formidable, but also underscored Republican resentment at persistent Democratic and liberal attempts to identify the entire party with the malady. A person wearing a MAGA hat, he said, “should not be labeled a racist for doing so.”

A version of this post first appeared in The Tell, Ron Kampeas’ weekly newsletter on Jewish news from Washington. Subscribe to it here.

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This couple pretended to be Hasidic to teach Jews about Jesus

Fri, 2019-05-17 18:54

(JTA) — A few months ago, a couple got involved in the Chicago Jewish community. Rivkah Weber and David Costello started attending an Orthodox synagogue in the West Ridge neighborhood. They looked and acted like Orthodox Jews: Weber covered her hair and wore long skirts, while Costello sported sidelocks and a kippah. The latter took a job at a kosher supermarket.

But on Wednesday, warnings started spreading on Jewish Facebook groups in Chicago and beyond saying the couple, the parents of two children, were actually Christian missionaries.

“[T]o answer the rumors, it is true that a couple moved into our community in the purpose of proselytizing … They are confirmed missionaries,” read one post, which contained photos of the couple dressed in traditional Orthodox garb.

Reached Friday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the couple said they do believe in Jesus and that one reason they had become involved in the Jewish community was to spread their beliefs.

“We want Jewish people to recognize Yeshua as Moshiach and as a Jewish Messiah,” Costello said in the phone interview, using the Hebrew words for Jesus and the Messiah.

He claims that he never hid his beliefs if asked and spoke with people in the community about them, but would not specify how many. Costello, who peppers his speech with Hebrew and Yiddish words, said the family is sincere in their observance of an Orthodox lifestyle.

“We actually keep the Torah and the mitzvahs,” he said. “We actually have an Orthodox life in our house and every day of our life, and they are saying that it’s simply to deceive and to bring Jewish people to believe in Jesus.” He denies the claim.

On Thursday, JTA spoke with three rabbis who had interacted with the couple. None would allow their names to be printed in the article.

“People feel betrayed,” said one rabbi, who leads a community in Chicago. “If you want to believe in something and sell it, that’s your business. But to come into a community and portray to be something you’re not, prey on people, unsuspecting, is unacceptable.”

On Tuesday, the rabbi said, a Brooklyn man who was visiting the city attended services at a local synagogue and recognized Costello as the same person who had attended his synagogue at home for six months before congregants found out that he believed in Jesus and had ties to a missionary group.

The rabbi was informed of this and approached Costello the next day.

COLlive, a community news site, quoted Rabbi Levi Notik of FREE, a Chabad community for Russian Jews, in a report about the pair. Notik said Costello did not deny his belief in Jesus when confronted.

“On the contrary, he insists that he is correct in his way and has no regrets,” the rabbi said.

JTA obtained a document from 2016 in which it said that David Costello was employed by Global Gates, an organization whose mission is “to see gospel transformation of the world’s most unevangelized people groups (sic) who have come to global gateway cities, and through them reach their communities around the world.” The organization names various Jewish and Hasidic groups in a listing of the “most significant unreached people group communities in Metro NY.”

Global Gates told JTA in an email on Thursday that the Costellos no longer worked for the organization.

“They were previously employed by Global Gates for less than a year. Their relationship with Global Gates ended in July 2017,” wrote David Garrison, the organization’s executive director.

Garrison would not answer additional questions about the nature of the Costellos’ work.

Costello, 37, was raised in a Christian family in New Jersey but says his maternal great-grandmother was Jewish. He says his wife, 27, is from North Carolina and may have some Jewish ancestry on her father’s side but has not been able to verify it.

Though traditional Judaism believes in the concept of a Messiah, no Jewish denominations consider Jesus to be the Messiah. Messianic groups, such as Jews for Jesus, are not accepted as Jewish by the broader Jewish community, even though some adherents may have been born Jewish and their ritual life includes Jewish practices.

Costello denied reports that his wife had worked as a babysitter in Chicago and tried to talk to children about her faith.

Facebook posts circulating this week shared an article from the newsletter of Johnson County for Israel, an evangelical group based in Texas, that profiles a couple named “David and Rivkah” and describes their activities doing missionary work among Hasidim.

“David and Rivkah have taken a very costly yet bold stand for the Lord in Brooklyn as they live kosher among Hasidim while serving Jesus as their Savior,” the newsletter dated November 2016 reads.

Costello told JTA that he and his wife were the couple described, but that the newsletter inaccurately implied they had adopted an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle simply to convert people.

Another Orthodox rabbi and community leader in Chicago said that during Purim, some families had found gift baskets at their homes containing missionary materials but it wasn’t clear at the time who had put them there. The rabbi said he now believes it was the work of the couple. Costello denied he and his wife were behind this and said the couple had done something similar years ago, but not in Chicago.

The second rabbi, who had several interactions with the couple, had not suspected that they were missionaries, but said he had felt something wasn’t quite right.

For example, he said that Costello had vast knowledge about the Bible but spoke poor Hebrew. And though Weber dressed quite modestly, she did not always wear darker colors, as traditionally favored by Hasidic women, and did not correctly pronounce certain Hebrew and Yiddish words.

“I just thought that there was something off,” the rabbi said.

The second rabbi and community leader put JTA in touch with a rabbi in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg who confirmed that the couple had been attending a synagogue there for six months before their beliefs and ties to Global Gates were revealed. The Brooklyn rabbi said the couple was told not to return to the synagogue after they stood by their beliefs.

Also in Chicago, the pair were told they were not welcome and Costello said he lost his job at the kosher store.

The first local rabbi, who said people felt betrayed by the couple, said the community had warmly welcomed Costello and Weber.

“They came to Chicago, they moved into their neighborhood, dressing and behaving outwardly like Hasidic Jews,” he said. “They were welcomed into the community and befriending everyone.”

The post This couple pretended to be Hasidic to teach Jews about Jesus appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Most Democratic voters don’t follow Israel news that closely, J Street survey finds

Fri, 2019-05-17 18:12

(JTA) – Most Democratic primary voters don’t follow news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict all that closely and agree that “someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be pro-Israel.”

Those are some of the findings in a recent survey commissioned by the liberal pro-Israel group J Street.

Nearly two-thirds of the 800 respondents, 63 percent, had not heard about the BDS, or the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, against Israel. Only 9 percent said they had heard “a great deal” (4 percent) or “a good amount” (5 percent) about the subject.

Only 19 percent of those surveyed reported following news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “very closely,” while 42 percent said “somewhat closely.”

Given the survey’s 3.5 percent margin of error, although the survey asked respondents who had heard of BDS whether or not they supported it, the results were not statistically significant.

Four in five respondents agreed with the statement on being critical of the government and still supporting Israel. J Street is critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.

Survey respondents mostly did not see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a favorable light but had warmer feelings for his nation and the Palestinians.

On a scale of zero to 100, with 100 meaning a “very warm, favorable feeling” and zero meaning a “very cold, unfavorable feeling,” Netanyahu scored a rating of 36 and Israel and the Palestinians 59 and 53, respectively.

In a separate question, 74 percent agreed that “The United States should act as a fair and impartial broker in order to achieve a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” while 20 percent said we should instead “side with Israel during peace negotiations because Israel is our democratic ally and needs our support against a world that isolates them.”

The poll included likely Democratic primary voters from across the country and was conducted May 1-5 by GBAO Strategies.

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Herman Wouk, legendary author who brought Judaism into the mainstream, dies at 103

Fri, 2019-05-17 17:32

BOSTON (JTA) — Herman Wouk, the Orthodox Jewish author whose literary career spanned nearly seven decades and who helped usher Judaism into the American mainstream, died Friday at the age of 103.

His agent confirmed the news to the Associated Press.

Wouk was the author of two-dozen novels and works of non-fiction – including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” from 1951, which was a fixture on best-seller lists for two years, and the best-selling “Marjorie Morningstar” from 1955. Both books were later adapted for the screen. His novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” both became successful television miniseries. By the mid-1950s, Wouk’s popular and financial success as an American Jewish novelist was unmatched.

Even more unusual for a writer of Wouk’s celebrity was his Orthodox observance and treatment of Jewish religious practice in his writing. Wouk embodied the new postwar possibilities for American Jews and his writing was both cause and effect of the normalization of Judaism within the larger American Judeo-Christian tradition.

When he appeared on the cover of Time in 1955, the magazine described Wouk’s blend of worldly success and Jewish religious observance as paradoxical: “He is a devout Orthodox Jew who had achieved worldly success in worldly-wise Manhattan while adhering to dietary prohibitions and traditional rituals which many of his fellow Jews find embarrassing.”

At the time, Wouk’s fame seemed like an incredible feat for an Orthodox Jew. Unlike other Jewish novelists, who had focused on Jewish immigrant culture and tended to portray religious Judaism as foreign and exotic, Wouk made Jewish religious observance appear mainstream in his books. Scenes of a Passover seder and a bar-mitzvah service became scenes of middle class American life in “Marjorie Morningstar.”

None of this escaped criticism. With the exception of “The Caine Mutiny,” critical reviews of Wouk’s works were always mixed. Both Jewish and mainstream reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of his writing, his conservative outlook on politics and sex, and his treatment of Judaism. Some rabbis even criticized Wouk for mocking Jewish observance — though in the coming decade, Philip Roth’s fiction would radically change their perspective on what counted as literary denigration of Judaism.

Meanwhile, fellow Jewish novelists like Roth, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer viewed Wouk as conforming to middle-class American values that prioritized marriage, family, religion, and service to country. Not only did he stay married to the same woman for over six decades, but Wouk expressed pride in his military service, for which he received a U. S. Navy Lone Sailor Award. Wouk in turn saw the others as bowing to fashionable literary trends of rebellion and shocking readers.

From his debut novel, “Aurora Dawn,” in 1947, to his last book, “Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year- Old Author” — published in 2015 when he was 100 years old — Wouk wove themes central to the American Jewish experience throughout his work. Even “The Caine Mutiny,” a less Jewish novel than later works, included Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, who gives a moving speech in defense of a lieutenant who helped keep Greenwald’s Jewish mother from being “melted down into a bar of soap” by the Nazis.

Set in the 1930s and 1940s, Wouk’s fourth book, “Marjorie Morningstar,” heralded a new era for American Jews. The novel followed the journey of a New York Jewish protagonist no different from any other bright and beautiful girl, an image further cemented by Natalie Wood’s portrayal of Marjorie in the 1958 film version.

Not since the 1927 film, “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson, had a movie shown Jewish religious scenes. But unlike “The Jazz Singer,” Marjorie and her religion were not exoticized — Jewishness was portrayed as middle-class and American. With Marjorie, Wouk had succeeded in making a story about Jews into an American story.

Marjorie also marked a turning point in Wouk’s writing career. With confidence that he had readers who would follow him to less popular subjects, Wouk’s fourth book, his first work of non-fiction, took on the subject of Orthodox Judaism. Published in 1959, “This Is My God” was a primer about the Jewish religion, intended for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers.

As other American celebrities would do, Wouk used his fame to draw attention to his little-understood religion. Serialized in the Los Angeles Times, “This Is My God” introduced readers to such Jewish particulars as the laws of kashrut and family purity and the holidays of Sukkot and Shavuot. The book showed, through anecdotes from Wouk’s glamorous Manhattan life, that it was possible to be both a modern American and Orthodox.

At a time when Jews still encountered quotas at universities and discrimination in hiring and housing, Wouk’s example provided inspiration. “This Is My God” became a popular bar-mitzvah and confirmation gift for young Jews of all movements.

Born in the Bronx on May 27, 1915, Wouk was the second of three children of Esther and Abraham Wouk, both immigrants from Belarus. Abraham Wouk began work as a laundry laborer and found financial success in the laundry business. Herman spent his early years in the Bronx, receiving basic Hebrew training from his grandfather. His childhood included the teasing and bullying that was common for bookish boys in rough neighborhoods.

From an early age, Wouk found a haven in reading, family and Judaism. After graduating from the public Townsend Harris High School, Wouk entered Columbia University, where he served as editor of the university’s humor magazine. He also took courses at Yeshiva University.

Upon graduating, Wouk briefly abandoned his religious lifestyle when he became a radio dramatist, writing for the comedian Fred Allen. Although the work was lucrative, Wouk felt a void in a life without Jewish learning and religion, and he eventually returned to his previous level of observance.

In the coming years he would reside in the Virgin Islands, Fire Island, Washington, D.C., Manhattan and Palm Springs — and in all those locales he was involved in setting up Jewish study and prayer groups.

Following Pearl Harbor, Wouk joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific, where he was an officer aboard two destroyers, participated in eight invasions and won several battle stars. Wouk also started to write his first novel, “Aurora Dawn,” while aboard ship. After Wouk sent part of a draft to one of his former Columbia professors, the professor connected Wouk with an editor, and a contract followed.

While his ship was being repaired in California, Wouk met Betty Sarah Brown, a graduate of the University of Southern California and a civilian Navy employee. After her conversion to Judaism, the couple married in 1945 and had three sons. Betty, who died in 2011, would eventually become her husband’s literary agent.

Wouk is survived by two sons, Nathaniel and Joseph, and three grandchildren. His oldest son, Abraham, died in a 1951 swimming pool accident.

(Rachel Gordan teaches American Jewish Studies at Boston University and Brandeis University. She interviewed Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs, in February, 2011.)

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Police probe second suspicious fire at Boston-area Chabad

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:01

BOSTON (JTA) — A second suspicious fire in less than one week burned Thursday night outside of the home of the rabbi of a Chabad center in suburban Boston.

The fires at the Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont are being investigated as hate crimes.

The Arlington Police Department and its Fire Department are working with state officials to investigate the second fire, according to a statement the town provided to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The first fire, on May 11, damaged outside shingles. Neither fire damaged the inside of the house, the residence of Rabbi Avi Bukiet, his wife and their three children.

A police officer who arrived on the scene 30 seconds after the report of the fire used a handheld extinguisher to douse the flames on the wood shingles on one side of the house. A police officer is on duty around the clock on the street where the Chabad center is located, a main thoroughfare in a residential neighborhood with an elementary school.

Police continue to search for a person on a neighbor’s surveillance video seen walking away from the Chabad center after the first fire. There is no surveillance from the second fire, according to the town.

“These are extremely concerning incidents in which an innocent family has had the safety and security of their home compromised by someone else’s violent actions,” acting police chief Julie Flaherty said. “The Arlington Police Department will use very resource to find the facts and ensure that any suspect or suspects are brought to face justice.”

The town is planning a news conference for later Friday, a spokesperson for the town told JTA.

Robert Trestan, the director of the New England office of Anti-Defamation League, said he is hearing from rabbis in the Chabad community following the fires in Arlington. He urged the public to be on alert.

“Everyone has a role to play, to keep their eyes and ears open,” he said.

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2 Democratic senators mock Trump’s Iran deal strategy on Twitter

Fri, 2019-05-17 14:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Escalated tensions with Iran is no laughing matter — but Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii are finding some humor.

Murphy and Schatz, who is Jewish, have developed a Twitter comedy duo routine. It’s less Abbott and Costello and more Mike Nichols and Elaine May — the two Democrats play a pair of intellectuals who despite their learning are occasionally naive and addled. (And of course, there’s a Jewish-Irish precedent: George Burns and Gracie Allen.)

Previously their pithy exchanges have taken on climate change, the government shutdown and rapper Cardi B.’s tendency to go blue. (Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, weighed in on the Cardi controversy.)

Murphy launched Thursday’s exchange with an expression of amazement — “no words” — at reporting that President Donald Trump is concerned that his team may be leading him into a war with Iran.

The Trump administration has sent reinforcements into the Persian Gulf based on vague reports of increased Iranian aggression. Trump reportedly is telling his counselors that he does not want war, and seeks talks with Iran’s leaders.

Schatz thought the idea of engaging the Iranians sounded awfully familiar.

“He should probably put together a global coalition that forces Iran to the table, and negotiate a deal that ends Iran’s nuclear program, complete with comprehensive inspections from the IAEA,” Schatz rejoined, an allusion to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama brokered and Trump abandoned, with much fanfare, saying it was inadequate to containing Iran.

Murphy bit.

“But I would want that deal to force them to shut down their path to a plutonium bomb, end weapons grade enrichment, get rid of their uranium stockpile, and also the inspectors would need to go anywhere, even military sites if needed,” he said, referring to provisions in the existing deal. “But all that’s not possible, right?”

“That seems like a reach, but man that would be an enormous diplomatic achievement,” Schatz replied. “It would make Israel, the region, and the world safer.”

“Brian, I just did some quick online research and I have BIG NEWS,” Murphy said.

“You are starting a podcast?” Schatz asked.

“That’s a brilliant idea,” Murphy said. “But no. Apparently we HAD an agreement that did all those things (I know!) and Trump tore it up, and then did a whole bunch more stuff that his military advisors told him might lead to war. Anyway, sometimes the internet is wrong but that’s what I found.”

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Paris Holocaust monument for children ‘censored’ in unusual case of vandalism

Fri, 2019-05-17 13:05

(JTA) — Parts of a text commemorating the murder of Jewish children in the Holocaust were painted over, as if redacted, at a newly-opened memorial park for victims of the genocide in Paris.

Police received reports this week of the unusual vandalism at the memorial space that opened in 2017 near the main Vel d’Hiv monument for Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis with help from French authorities.

Among the sentences painted over was assertion that victims were “killed in terrible and cruel conditions” as well as the words “extermination” and that the Nazis wanted to “annihilate” Jews.

Also painted over was the number, 4,115, of French Jewish children who disappeared without a trace during the Holocaust, after being killed by the Nazis following events like the Vel d’Hiv roundup in 1942, the Le Parisien magazine reported Wednesday.

“Can you imagine something more lowly,” the French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy wrote on Twitter Thursday about the incident.

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Aide to French far-right party leader pictured wearing Orthodox Jew costume

Fri, 2019-05-17 12:41

(JTA) — An assistant of the general-secretary of France’s foremost far-right party was photographed grimacing while dressed as an Orthodox Jews and extending claw-like fingers at the camera.

Labeled by the French media as an “anti-Semitic caricature,” the image from 2013 of Guillaume Pradoura, which surfaced in social networks this week, exposed the National Assembly – formerly National Front – to fresh criticism of anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Pradoura is the assistant of Nicolas Bay, ranked number 7 on the list for this month’s European Parliament elections by the National Assembly under Marine Le Pen.

Bay dismissed criticism over the picture, saying that “it was a disguise, a mere joke made in bad taste made privately,” Kobini, a news site, reported Thursday.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder and father of it’;s current leader, Marine Le Pen, has multiple convictions for denying the GHolocaust and inciting racial hatred against Jews. His daughter has kicked him out the party and vowed to stop expressions of anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Separately, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, on Thursday said it had filed a complaint for hate speech against a man who called himself “gasman” on Facebook and wrote Auschwitz under place of work, in what he wrote was a tribute to his grandfather who executed Jews with the Zyklon B poison at that death camp.

Contacted by LBCA Presdient Joel Rubinfeld, he later said it “was just a joke.”

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Chief Israeli rabbi wants Jews to extend Shabbat to protest Eurovision finals timing

Fri, 2019-05-17 12:06

(JTA) — Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, called on Jews to extend by 20 minutes the time they observe Shabbat this week to protest its violation during the Eurovision song contest.

“This coming Saturday there will be a massive desecration of Shabbat for all the world to see,” Lau said in a filmed address Thursday. “Let us extend the sanctity of Shabbat.”

Orthodox Judaism commands Jews to refrain from working, operating machines, working and starting any fire on Shabbat, among other prohibitions on that day.

The Eurovision finals are set to take place in Tel Aviv on Shabbat.

Lau asked his listeners to begin observing Shabbat 10 minutes ahead of its actual beginning on Friday evening and another 10 minutes after it ends on Saturday night.

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4 countries hold Eurovision ‘postcard’ photoshoots in disputed Israeli-held territory

Fri, 2019-05-17 11:54

(JTA) — Several delegations to the Eurovision song contest posed for pictures and videos in the Golan and east Jerusalem, which most countries consider occupied.

The posing of the Russian, Romanian, Serbian, Belorussian and Albanian delegations in such sites has provoked criticism in media critical of Israel but was dismissed by the European Broadcasting Corporation as compatible with the event’s apolitical mission statement.

The Russian delegation posed earlier this week against the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem. Seized by Israel in 1967, that site is internationally considered occupied, though Israel opposes this definition. The Jewish state annexed east Jerusalem in the 1980s.

The photo and video shoot was part of the so-called postcards tradition of the Eurovision contest, in which delegations visit various sites in the host country for the production of visual material that is later broadcast to the many millions of viewers of the contest.

Tourist professionals consider the postcards a valuable marketing tool.

The Serbian postcard was made against the snowy hills outside Ein Zivan, an Israeli kibbutz on the Golan. Israel captured that area in 1967 as well and annexed it. The United States this year recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan, making it the only other nation besides Israel to do so.

Albania and Romania’s delegations also posed in the Golan for their postcards, whereas the Belorussian one visited east Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Archaeological Museum.

Israel is hosting the contest because it won it last year. The event’s producers said the European organizers had vetoed postcards from the West Bank proper.

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Terror attacks on Israelis halved in April, 1st casualty-free month since 2017

Fri, 2019-05-17 11:29

(JTA) — Terrorist attacks on Israelis more than halved over March last month, which was the first month in over a year with no casualties among victims.

The Israel Security Agency documented 126 attacks in April, compared to 308 in March, the agency said in its monthly report.

The previous month with neither fatalities nor injuries among victims of terrorist attacks was December 2017.

Earlier this month, however, four Israelis died as a result of heavy rocket fire from Gaza aimed at civilian populations.

On Wednesday, thousands of Palestinians protested against Israel near the border, where they staged riots. At least 65 people were injured in clashes with Israeli troops guarding the border, according to officials from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

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German Jews honor non-Jewish Zionist journalist

Fri, 2019-05-17 10:57

(JTA) — Germany’s main Jewish organization gave its Leo Back Prize to journalist and publisher Mathias Döpfner for his commitment to Israel and German Jewry.

At a time when media and popular sentiment increasingly blame Israel for defending itself, Döpfner steadfastly defends truth, said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

“You don’t remain silent,” Schuster told Döpfner at a gala dinner May 16 in Berlin. “You don’t try to explain away this hatred for Israel and for us Jews. Or to justify it.”

Döpfner, 56, who has called himself a non-Jewish Zionist, made the “fight against anti-Semitism his personal concern,”  Schuster added.

Speaking extemporaneously, Döpfner said that his first visit to Israel, in 1981, shaped his later career. He was also influenced by his friendships with several Holocaust survivors.

Döpfner said he’d always felt it was not enough to condemn anti-Semitism; one had to stand up against it.

“Why is this worth a prize? It should be a matter of course,” he said, in accepting the award.

The 10,000 euro prize was established in 1957, and is named for Rabbi Leo Baeck, a leader in Germany’s liberal movement who died the previous year.

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Williams College bypasses student’s refusal to register pro-Israel group

Fri, 2019-05-17 10:47

(JTA) — Bypassing students’ refusal to register a pro-Israel group at Williams College, administrators gave it an official status.

The prestigious Massachusetts institution on Tuesday registered the Williams Initiative for Israel group, or WIFI, Williams’ director of media relations Gregory Shook told FIRE, a non-profit promoting freedom of expression on American campuses.

Williams College “had a legal obligation to offer that process if WIFI requested it, which they did,” Shook wrote.

Last month, the council at the small liberal arts college in Williamstown voted not to admit WIFI as a recognized student group.

“After the College Council’s vote, college administrators discussed the fact that the college’s Student Handbook described a parallel path” to registration, Shook added, “that had not been engaged in this case.”

WIFI is now a student association “with the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that label entails,” Shook told FIRE.

FIRE had protested the refusal to recognize WIFI, calling it a “viewpoint-base denial.”

Quoting from Williams’ code of conduct,  FIRE noted it states that the college is committed to “being a community in which all ranges of opinion and belief can be expressed and debated.” Fire is “pleased to see this result, and we hope it signals that Williams intends to keep its promise to students,” the group wrote.

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German parliament set to call Israel boycott campaign anti-Semitism

Fri, 2019-05-17 10:19

(JTA) — The German Bundestag is set to call the movement to boycott Israel anti-Semitic.

The legislative body is expected to pass on Friday a non-binding resolution proposed by the four mainstream parties that calls to bar the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and any other group deemed anti-Semitic from receiving federal funds and from using public space.

Their joint motion by the Social Democratic Party, the Free Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Union and the Greens demands clear condemnation of calls for Germany to boycott Israeli goods, describing the “patterns of argumentation and methods of the BDS movement” as anti-Semitic.

The Swiss parliament in 2017 passed a bill prohibiting state financing for BDS, listing it along with forms of racism. Explicit references to BDS were ultimately withdrawn from the law’s final version

The German draft motion refers specifically to “‘Don’t Buy” stickers that BDS activists have pasted onto some products from the region. This action is reminiscent, says the resolution, of the Nazi-era slogan “don’t buy from Jews.”

Several German cities already have adopted similar resolutions. Promoting BDS is illegal in France and Spain.

The Left Party has submitted its own motion, which specifies that only expressions of anti-Semitism within the BDS movement be singled out for criticism. The party does not criticize the BDS movement as such.

The far-right AfD party has proposed banning BDS entirely. Germany’s mainstream parties will not cooperate with the AfD, due to its anti-immigrant politics and the tendency of some of its politicians to relativize the Holocaust.

The BDS movement accuses Israel of being an “apartheid” state.

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Stabbing of Jewish woman in Sweden ‘not about religion,’ suspect’s mom says

Fri, 2019-05-17 08:53

(JTA) — The man suspected of stabbing a Jewish woman in Sweden did not commit a hate crime, targeting her randomly amid a psychiatric crisis, his mother said.

The 29-year-old man, who has an extensive criminal record for assault, was released from 12 days at a psychiatric institution one day prior to the attack Tuesday in Helingborg, according to Expressen.

Several Israeli media reported that he is Muslim, though this has not been confirmed.

“I do not share the image that is spread in the Israeli media though I understand the concern and do not want in any way to downplay it,” prosecutor Linda Seger told the Helsingborgs Dagblad daily.

“This does not have anything to do with religion,” the suspect’s mother told Expressen. Neither she, her son nor the victim have been named. The Expressen report did not say whether the suspect is in fact Muslim.

The suspect delivered near-fatal blows to the woman, a leader of the local Jewish community, very close to her home on a busy street. He approached her from the back, plunging a large knife into her upper body. The assault was over within seconds and he fled the scene, police said.

The suspect then crossed the border to neighboring Denmark and checked into a local hostel, where police arrested him on Wednesday, according to Expressen.

On Thursday, a Muslim umbrella organization from Malmo condemned the attack. “Whatever the motive,” the Malmö Muslim Network wrote, “we Muslims know the insecurity such an attack can lead to for the entire Jewish community of Helsingborg.”

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The son of Holocaust hero Chiune Sugihara is setting the record straight about his father’s story

Thu, 2019-05-16 21:40

(JTA) — After decades of relative obscurity, the tale of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara has become one of the best-known Holocaust rescue stories, rivaling those of Oskar Schindler and Irena Sendler.

The late Sugihara, who issued thousands of life-saving visas to Jewish refugees in Lithuania in defiance of his pro-Nazi government, became popularly known only about 20 years ago, in part due to the 2000 opening of a museum about him in Japan. A year earlier, a Sugihara museum celebrating his actions had opened in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Amid the growing recognition, one of the Sugihara’s four children, Nobuki, recently began traveling around the world telling audiences about his father’s legacy.

But Nobuki Sugihara’s aim is not to glorify his father, he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. If anything, his goal seems to be to cut his father’s public image down to size.

“I noticed a few years ago there are inaccuracies in circulation about what my father had done,” Nobuki Sugihara, 70, said in an interview earlier this month in Minsk, Belarus, where he spoke about his father at the Limmud FSU conference on Jewish learning. “I started speaking just to set the record straight on those embellishments.”

On May 22, Nobuki will speak at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. One of the stories he refutes in his talks is the one about his father writing visas on the train he left on for Germany after being expelled from his post in Lithuania. Sugihara supposedly “threw the signed visas” through a train window, as the Kaunas museum states on its website.

Both Sugihara museums say it happened. The Japanese one even plays a film that re-creates it.

“That never happened,” Nobuki Sugihara said. “Maybe, maybe he gave three or four visas at the hotel” just before his departure.

Another myth has Chiune Sugihara giving his consular seals to refugees so they could continue making visas on their own after he was forced to leave. Also never happened, Nobuki said.

The formation of myths around any heroic character is natural, he acknowledged.

“But my father would not have liked it,” Nobuki Sugihara said. “He would have not approved, he was always in favor of telling things like they were, no melodrama.”

Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, helped thousands of Jews flee Europe during World War II. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some Christian writers and websites have attributed religious motives to Sugihara. One fake quote has him saying “I may have to disobey my government, but if I do not, I will be disobeying God.”

Yet religion never entered the picture, according to Nobuki.

“The truth is, he just took pity on these people and decided to do something,” Nobuki Sugihara said. “This wasn’t about ideology.”

Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU, thinks that the younger Sugihara is actually doing a service to his father’s legacy.

“Sugihara’s legacy as a role model is more relatable and powerful when it accurately tells the reason he helped these people: human kindness. Not a political or ideological move,” Chesler said.

The life of Nobuki Sugihara, Chiune’s youngest son and the only one still alive, has been shaped significantly by what his father had done. In 1985, Chiune Sugihara was declared a Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. In 1968, the Israeli Foreign Ministry arranged for a scholarship for Nobuki at Hebrew University.

The people from the Israeli Embassy “were the only people I knew from outside Japan, from the West, at the time,” Nobuki recalled.

He went to Israel and eventually took a job at the Ramat Gan diamond exchange, where he learned the secrets of the trade at a time when it was dominated by Jews in Israel, Belgium and London. Nobuki Sugihara is now a diamond trader in Antwerp, Belgium — a city with a sizable Jewish population — and lives there with his wife. He has four sons of his own, speaks fluent Hebrew (from his time in Israel) and has passive knowledge of Yiddish.

Even without the embellishments that Nobuki Sugihara insists on debunking, his father’s story is legendary. Chiune Sugihara, who died in 1986, ignored orders from Tokyo while posted to Kaunas (then Kovno) in 1940 and helped Jews flee the Nazis and travel through Russia to China, Japan and beyond. He issued over 2,000 visas, which led at least twice as many people to safety. As many as 100,000 people today are the descendants of the recipients of Sugihara visas.

His official title was with the consular department in Kaunas, but really he was a Japanese intelligence operative collecting information on the Russians, his son said in Minsk, confirming an open secret about the father. When the Russians invaded Lithuania in 1940, foreign diplomats, including Sugihara, were ordered to move out.

Nobuki Sugihara, second from left with Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler and villagers from Mir, May 2, 2019. (Boris Brumin)

Before leaving, Sugihara and his Dutch counterpart, Jan Zwartendijk, issued the visas, including some to the entire student body of the Mir Yeshiva. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis invaded Lithuania and turned that country into a graveyard for its Jews. Mir was the only yeshiva to escape Eastern Europe.

Chiune Sugihara had no idea for decades that he had saved so many lives, according to his son.

“He assumed a few people, maybe a few dozen, had actually used the visas to escape,” Nobuki said. “He truly did not realize the magnitude of his actions until much, much later in life.”

These actions had a dramatic influence on the diplomat’s life and that of his family. Chiune Sugihara was forced to leave the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 1947. A superior called him in for a talk and said: “You know what you did. Now you need to leave the ministry,” according to Nobuki.

Disgraced for violating orders, he became an office manager for a trading company and moved to Moscow in 1960. (Sugihara spoke fluent Russian, in addition to several other languages.) Before marrying Nobuki’s mother, Yukiko, Chiune was married to a Russian woman with whom he stayed in contact throughout his life.

“He always felt responsible for everyone in his life,” Nobuki said of his father.

The younger Sugihara said it gives him great pleasure to tell Jewish audiences about his father’s character, which few of the people he rescued got to know.

“I feel at home speaking to Jewish audiences,” Nobuki said. “I feel the warmth from the people I speak to, who react to my directness.”

Most of all, though, he finds conversations with survivors and their descendants satisfying.

During a recent encounter in Israel, one woman recalled how Nobuki’s father, sensing her distress in line for a visa, told her to go back home. The diplomat said that “in the morning, she will have her visa and everything will be all right.”

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One thing Crown Heights can do to really tackle anti-Semitism

Thu, 2019-05-16 20:50

NEW YORK (JTA) – Anti-Jewish incidents made up more than half the hate crimes reported in New York City in 2018 and so far this year. The 71st Precinct, which includes the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, reported nine incidents, the most of any precinct in the five boroughs.  

When alleged anti-Semitic attacks occur here, the news spreads quickly via WhatsApp, social media and local community blogs. There is much fear and confusion over these incidents. People want to know what went wrong in Crown Heights and why it has become a normal occurrence for an innocent Jew to be beaten in the streets.

I myself have witnessed youth taunt Jewish children in the streets and call them Hitler, among other names. And I’ve seen adults complain bitterly about their financial difficulties, blaming the Jewish community for the staggering increase in rent and the cost of living in Crown Heights.

Incidents continue to rise despite the dozens of news conferences where Brooklyn’s faith and racial leaders openly condemn the hate and call for unity. Community leaders and elected officials have held many meetings, some of which I have participated in, trying to come up with creative solutions. They’ve been in vain.

The Crown Heights Jewish community, which includes a high percentage of visibly Jewish men and women affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has good relationships with government officials and community leaders. But because many of our children attend private Jewish day schools rather than area public schools, we often lack personal connections with our non-Jewish neighbors at the grassroots level.

Now it’s time to do more than just talk among the leadership. Assumptions, speculation and guesswork have not led to a better understanding of the underlying problems.

We must conduct a thorough study of anti-Semitic attitudes in the areas of Brooklyn that have seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. The schools would seem an obvious place to begin.

Rather than lamenting hate crimes after they occur, we should be looking at how local youth view the Jewish community and what are the major factors influencing their behaviors.

Once the data are analyzed and the results have been studied, we will be able to create intolerance and hate crime prevention programs in schools, and elsewhere, to address the problem.

Even the most comprehensive anti-hate curriculum won’t fully eradicate anti-Semitism or other forms of bigotry. But it will certainly go a long way toward bringing our communities together and preventing the problem to spread in our community’s future leaders.

Only by identifying the present manifestations of anti-Semitism and understanding when, where and how they develop can we begin to eradicate the problems.

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