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Why Kesha’s latest song is inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Fri, 2018-09-21 20:28

Kesha at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, May 20, 2018. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for dcp)

(JTA) — Though singer Kesha is best known for a song in which she claims to rinse her brushed teeth with Jack Daniels, her latest tune takes on a more serious subject.

The artist is behind one of the songs featured in an upcoming movie about the life and career of Jewish Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In an op-ed for lifestyle site Refinery29, Kesha writes about why she decided to pen the song for the film “On the Basis of Sex.”

She said she was initially intimidated by the thought of having to write about Ginsburg’s life, as she mostly tends to draw inspiration from her own experiences. But watching the movie made her change her mind.

“I wanted to do what I could to pay tribute to Ginsburg, who has spent a lifetime fighting tirelessly for equality, with no signs of slowing down. I wanted to make my voice heard, too,” said Kesha, who also lent her vocals to the song.

Kesha said that “Here Comes The Change” is about making a difference in the world and fighting for what’s right.

“For me, these words are about promoting love and equality, the belief that everyone should have the same opportunity to live a safe and healthy life full of love and hope regardless of their skin color or sexual orientation or gender or religion,” she said.

Listen to the song here:

The post Why Kesha’s latest song is inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

55 House Republicans urge Trump to allow ‘Israel’ on passports of Jerusalem-born

Fri, 2018-09-21 19:26

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A letter from 55 U.S. House of Representatives Republicans to President Donald Trump asks him to direct the State Department to allow U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birth country on their passport.

“Despite the progress in moving the embassy, the State Department has not yet fully implemented the administration’s policy of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for purposes of registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem,” said the letter sent Sept. 17.

The letter was released to media on Friday by Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who initiated it with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

Previous administrations have resisted allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to list “Israel” as their birth country, saying that it would be de facto recognition of Israel’s claim to the city. The Supreme Court in 2015 upheld the executive branch’s right to maintain that policy, although Congress in 2002 passed a law requiring the State Department to allow listing “Israel.”

Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and in May moved the U.S. embassy to the city.

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34 Senate Democrats urge Trump to restore aid to the Palestinians

Fri, 2018-09-21 19:06

President Donald Trump speaking to supporters at a campaign rally in Elkhart, Ind., May 10, 2018. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two-thirds of Democrats in the Senate and a third of the entire body signed a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reinstate assistance to the Palestinians, saying the cuts risk exacerbating tensions in the region.

“Eliminating funds for programs that provide clean water, food, education, and medical services for Palestinians will exacerbate poverty, fuel extremism, further reduce the chance of a future peace agreement and threaten Israel’s security,” said the letter sent Friday and signed by 34 senators who caucus with the Democrats.

Trump’s cuts, penalizing Palestinians for backing away from efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, include $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and $300 million in contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The letter noted that Congress authorized the assistance and that it does not go directly to the Palestinian Authority.

“We are deeply concerned that your strategy of attempting to force the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table by withholding humanitarian assistance from women and children is misguided and destined to backfire,” the letter said. “Your proposed cuts would undermine those who seek a peaceful resolution and strengthen the hands of Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip, as the humanitarian crisis there worsens.”

The letter was supported by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. “By exacerbating the humanitarian nightmare in Gaza, these cuts promote instability and increase the security threat to Israelis,” the group said in a statement.

The letter was initiated by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Chris Coons D-Del. Jewish signatories include Feinstein, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Signatories believed to be contemplating presidential runs include Sanders, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California.

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One of Hezbollah’s most important members arrested in Brazil

Fri, 2018-09-21 18:49

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — One of Hezbollah’s most wanted members, Assad Ahmad Barakat, was arrested near Brazil’s border with Argentina and Paraguay on Friday.

Barakat has been labeled by the U.S. Treasury as one of the Lebanese terrorist group’s main financiers. He is part of the Barakat Clan, a criminal organization known for its links to Hezbollah.

Barakat was arrested in Foz de Iguazú, in southern Brazil. That triple border, or Triple Frontier as it is known as, has been linked with Hezbollah terrorist activity for decades, specifically as a source of the group’s funding.

In July, the Barakat Clan’s assets were frozen by the Financial Information Unit of Argentina. On Aug. 31, Argentine Judge Rubén Darío Riquelme ordered Barakat’s international capture. Barakat who also was sought by Paraguay and Brazil.

Barakt, who was born in Lebanon, is also accused in Paraguay for identity fraud and for omitting information about his nationality status.

“We have monitored international terrorist activity in the lawless contiguous Triple Frontier region for some 20 years,” Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, said Friday in a statement. “We commends this arrest and the expected extradition of Barakat to Argentina, as a sign that the three countries will begin to drive Hezbollah out of Latin America.”

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Report: Justice Department No. 2, Rod Rosenstein, discussed removing Trump from office

Fri, 2018-09-21 18:33

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaking to guests at the International Association of Defense Counsel’s 2018 Corporate Counsel College in Chicago, April 26, 2018. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, discussed garnering support among the Cabinet to remove President Donald Trump during the administration’s chaotic first months, The New York Times reported.

Rosenstein in May of 2017 also discussed secretly recording the president, apparently to make the case against Trump, The Times said, according to anonymous sources familiar with the events or apprised of notes written at the time by Andrew McCabe, then the acting FBI director.

Rosenstein categorically denied the allegations. “The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he told the newspaper in a statement. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

The 25th Amendment is the mechanism by which a majority of the Cabinet may remove an unfit president from office.

The Times said Rosenstein was alarmed by Trump’s lack of seriousness in his search for a new FBI director after Trump had fired James Comey. He was also angry that Trump had cited a memo Rosenstein had written criticizing Comey’s handling in 2016 of an investigation into Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in the presidential election, as a pretext for firing Comey.

Trump later acknowledged that he fired Comey because the FBI was conducting an investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The gambit failed: The attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, who was involved in the campaign, recused himself from the matter, and Rosenstein, in Sessions’ stead, named a special prosecutor to look into the matter, Robert Mueller.

Mueller’s investigation has expanded and he has obtained multiple indictments, guilty pleas and a conviction. Trump has attacked Mueller, Sessions and, at times, Rosenstein, and he calls the investigation a “witch hunt.” McCabe, who also was repeatedly targeted by Clinton, was fired earlier this year as deputy FBI director for alleged dishonesty related to communications with media about the Clinton investigation. He disputes the charge.

Rosenstein, who is Jewish, was involved in his local Jewish Community Center, in Rockville, Maryland, and this year addressed the Anti-Defamation League, praising its commitment to fighting bias.

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Israeli medical company Mazor robotics sold for record-breaking $1.6b

Fri, 2018-09-21 18:11

(JTA) — Israeli medical robotic company Mazor Robotics will be acquired by Dublin-based Medtronic in a deal worth approximately $1.64 billion, the companies announced.

The deal, which the Irish firm announced Thursday, represents the largest sale or “exit” of an Israeli medical company to date, surpassing the $1.1 billion acquisition of NeuroDerm by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma in 2017, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Founded in 2001, Caesarea-based Mazor Robotics has pioneered the application of robotics technology and guidance for use in spinal procedures.

The company is the holder of more than 50 patents worldwide. Its 200 systems have guided the placement of more than 250,000 implants during 40,000 spinal operations, the company claims.

Medtronic previously held a stake of approximately 11 percent of Mazor shares.

In August 2017, Medtronic became the sole worldwide distributor of the Mazor X robotic guidance system.

Shares in Mazor Robotics rose by 4.91 percent to $52.75 at the Nasdaq Stock Market on Thursday.

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Ron DeSantis condemns Jewish backer’s racism, but he won’t return his cash

Fri, 2018-09-21 17:48

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Republican nominee for governor in Florida condemned racist remarks by Jewish backer Steven Alembik as “disgusting” but his campaign said it would not return money Alembik had donated.

Alembik, of Boca Raton, had on Twitter called former President Barack Obama a “F***ING MUSLIM N*****.” Asked about his use of the pejorative, he told Politico on Thursday: “I grew up in New York in the ’50s. We were the kikes. They were the n——. They were the goyim. And those were the spics.”

A campaign statement from the GOP candidate, former congressman Ron DeSantis,  denounced Alembik’s rhetoric as “disgusting,” and said it would no longer accept money from him. But the campaign also said it  would not return at least $4,000 he had given the campaign because it had already been spent during the primaries, The Associated Press reported.

DeSantis, who resigned his seat in Congress last week to focus on an unexpectedly tight gubernatorial race, spoke in February at a pro-Israel event Alembik organized at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort owned by President Donald Trump.

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58 groups seek action after Michigan prof declines to write reference letter for student to study in Israel

Fri, 2018-09-21 17:30

An aerial view of Michigan Stadium as the sun rises on the University of Michigan campus. (University of Michigan/Flickr)

(JTA) — Fifty-eight organizations called on the University of Michigan to sanction professors who implement academic boycotts of Israel.

The letter, sent Friday to university president Mark Schlissel, was signed by Jewish, Israel advocacy and political organizations and organized by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to combat campus anti-Semitism.

It referred to an incident last week, in which a professor at the school, John Cheney-Lippold, refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study abroad at Tel AViv University, citing his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country.

“I have extraordinary political and ethical conflict lending my name to helping that student go to that place,” Cheney-Lippold has told reporters.

On Tuesday, the university said in a statement that it opposes academic boycotts of Israel and that “[i]njecting personal politics into a decision regarding support for our students is counter to our values and expectations as an institution.”

On Thursday, in a separate statement, Schlissel said that “[w]e will be taking appropriate steps to address this issue and the broader questions it has raised.”

The signatories of Friday’s letter — which included groups such as the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Christians and Jews United for Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America — strongly criticized Cheney-Lippold’s decision and called on Schlissel to make a statement that such behavior would not be allowed.

“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible,” it read.

Cheney-Lippold’s decision has raised questions about academic freedom. The American Association of University Professors opposes academic boycotts, although writing letters of recommendation is voluntary on the part of professors.

Hans-Joerg Tiede, the associate secretary of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, told Insider Higher Ed that AAUP does address whether faculty are obligated to write reference letters, but that “refusing to write a letter of reference on grounds that are discriminatory would appear to be at odds with the AAUP’s Statement on Professional Ethics.”

John K. Wilson, the co-editor of the AAUP’s blog, “Academe,” told Insider Higher Ed that “it is morally wrong for professors to impose their political views on student letters of recommendation.” Wilson emphasized, however, that the professor should not be punished.

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In J.K. Rowling’s new novel, a villain is an Israel-hating anti-Semite

Fri, 2018-09-21 17:23

J.K. Rowling at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) at Royal Albert Hall in London, Feb. 12, 2017. (John Phillips/Getty Images)

(JTA) — For months author J.K. Rowling has been warning about the dangers of anti-Semitism in England, sparring on Twitter with critics who either downplay the phenomenon or say its proponents are confusing criticism of Israel with Jew hatred.

Now, in her newest book, she includes a character whose obsessive anti-Zionism morphs into anti-Semitism.

“Lethal White,” the fourth series in Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery series, written under the pen name Robert Galbraith, features a pair of hard-left political activists who believe “Zionists” are evil and have a stranglehold on Western governments.

Extortionist Jimmy Knight’s extreme hatred of Israel has led him to hate Jews.

“I wouldn’t trust him if it was anything to do with Jews,” Knight’s ex-wife tells a detective. “He doesn’t like them. Israel’s the root of all evil, according to Jimmy. Zionism: I got sick of the bloody sound of the word. You’d think they’d suffered enough,” she says of Jews.

Rowling’s depiction of a far-left anti-Semite comes at a time of record high anti-Semitism in Britain, where she lives. Britain’s Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn have been accused of insensitivity to Jews and condoning anti-Jewish sentiments within the party’s ranks. Corbyn previously defended a grotesquely anti-Semitic London mural depicting Jewish bankers, and referred to his “friends” in terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, though he’s said he now regrets these positions.

A September 2018 poll found that nearly 40 percent of British Jews would seriously consider emigrating if Corbyn became prime minister — as polls show he might.

The latest novel isn’t the first time the author of the Harry Potter series has commented on the dangers of anti-Semitism.

“Most UK Jews in my timeline are currently having to field this kind of crap, so perhaps some of us non-Jews should start shouldering the burden,” she wrote in April, in response to a critic who said Judaism is a religion, not a race. “Antisemites thinks this is a clever argument, so tell us, do: were atheist Jews exempted from wearing the yellow star?”

Rowling, who is not Jewish, also shared with her 14.4 million Twitter followers examples of posts she’d received that denied anti-Semitism was a problem.

To a commenter who posted that Arabs cannot possibly be anti-Semitic because Arabs are Semites too, Rowling tweeted a photo of a dictionary definition of anti-Semitism: “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” She also included a spirited defense of Jews: “Split hairs. Debate etymology. Gloss over the abuse of your fellow citizens by attacking the actions of another country’s government. Would your response to any other form of racism or bigotry be to squirm, deflect or justify?”

When a Jewish mother tweeted Rowling to say her son had faced anti-Semitic bullies in school, Rowling tweeted back “so sorry” and wrote “Know that you aren’t alone and that a lot of us stand with you xx.”

A few months later, on Aug. 26, after a fellow mystery writer, Simon Maginn, tweeted that British Jews’ outrage over Corbyn’s views were “synthetic,” Rowling defended the Jews. “What other minority would you speak to this way?” she posted, before quoting from Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay “Anti-Semite and Jew.”

In 2015, Rowling declined to endorse open letters calling for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel and signed by over 1,000 British authors and opinion leaders. Instead, she joined 150 other writers and artists in penning an alternative letter opposing singling out Israel for opprobrium.

“Israelis will be right to ask why cultural boycotts are not also being proposed against…North Korea,” her Oct. 23, 2015 letter declared. Instead of boycotts, the letter said, “Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.”

Rowling has been critical of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but is adamant that Israel, its people and its supporters should not be subjected to a double standard by their opponents.

The post In J.K. Rowling’s new novel, a villain is an Israel-hating anti-Semite appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Pope urged to speak out against construction atop a Vilnius Jewish cemetery

Fri, 2018-09-21 16:20

(JTA) — Pope Francis is being urged to protest a Lithuanian government plan to build a conference center atop a former cemetery.

Dovid Katz, a professor of Yiddish who runs the Defending History group and website, made the appeal in a statement ahead of the pope’s planned visit Sunday to the Vilnius Ghetto, the part of the Lithuanian capital where the Nazis and their local collaborators crammed thousands of Jewish during the Holocaust before murdering them.

The planned $25 million conference center is being built above the former Snipiskes Cemetery, which the Soviets destroyed decades ago and where many Jewish sages are buried.

It “would be very easy for him to bring up with Lithuanian government and ecclesiastical officials on his trip,” Katz wrote.

Katz’s appeal follows months of intensive lobbying by rabbis and activists who oppose the planned construction for religious reasons, citing rules set forth in halacha, Orthodox Jewish law, that forbid disturbing Jewish bodies.

An online petition launched last year calling for a halt to the project has received more than 44,000 signatures.

“We feel honored by the pope’s visit — no matter that we have different religions — and appreciate that he will honor the victims exactly 75 years after the ghetto was liquidated,” Faina Kukliansky, who heads the national umbrella group that is charged with representing the community, told AFP.

Lithuanian Jews are split on the project.  Kukliansky, who approved the project, has long faced accusations of corruption, which she has denied. In December, a Lithuanian court voided the communal elections in which Kukliansky’s term was extended, following a contested mid-campaign rules switch. A new vote has not been held.

Rabbi Avraham Ginsberg, executive director of the London-based Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, said the construction would not disturb the Jewish graves.

In 2009, the committee was shown to be seeking $100,000 for “rabbinical supervision of digging” to be obtained by the Lithuanian government from developers. The sum was noted in a cable sent by a U.S. State Department official and leaked by WikiLeaks. Ginsberg has said the sum was never paid and was a maximum estimate of expenses that his organization might incur while supervising the site.

The post Pope urged to speak out against construction atop a Vilnius Jewish cemetery appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Here’s how Israelis and local Jews are helping in Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria

Fri, 2018-09-21 16:13

In October, a new gravitational sand water filtration system built by IsraAID and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico will be up and running in Barrio Real, a small rural community in Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of IsraAID)

This story is sponsored by the Schusterman Foundation.

Almost immediately after Hurricane Maria barreled into Puerto Rico a year ago this month, disaster relief groups rushed to the shattered island to help with rescue and cleanup.

The storm turned out to be the worst natural disaster ever recorded in the U.S. territory. The Category 4 hurricane caused catastrophic flooding that decimated 80 percent of the island’s crops, destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and completely devastated the electricity grid.

Among the initial responders was the Israeli disaster response group IsraAID, which opened six mobile medical clinics on the island, distributed water filters in six remote communities, provided mental health support in storm shelters and trained staff at two hospitals in trauma response.

As the recovery and rebuilding effort stretched into weeks and months, most emergency response groups packed up and moved onto other disaster zones. But a year after the storm, IsraAID is still in Puerto Rico, and plans to stay for at least two more years.

“Following the earthquake in Haiti we stayed there for eight years,” said Yotam Polizer, IsraAID’s co-CEO. “Though being on the ground quickly saves lives, we’re realizing more and more that the initial emergency response doesn’t sustain the local population.”

Now, the group’s focus in Puerto Rico is helping communities still struggling with hurricane-related trauma and a dearth of clean drinking water. Needs are especially acute in rural villages cut off from the national water grid.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, especially in the mountainous areas,” said Haley Broder, IsraAID’s head of mission in Puerto Rico. “We’re working with a small community there that didn’t have electricity for more than eight months and whose clean drinking water is dependent on an electrical pump.”

After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, IsraAID opened six mobile medical clinics on the island. (Courtesy of IsraAID)

Hurricane Maria is blamed for more than 3,000 deaths – not just those who died during the hurricane, but those who died from hurricane-caused illnesses and lack of treatment. Then there’s the additional collateral damage exacerbated by the storm, including deepening poverty and a spike in suicides. Perhaps most notably, tens of thousands of people left the U.S. territory and moved to the mainland. They may never return.

The storm’s psychological impact remains overwhelming.

“Our psychologists say it’s not PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] because people are still experiencing trauma every day,” Broder said. “There is nothing ‘post’ about it.”

Since ending its emergency response, IsraAID staffers — supplemented by trained volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community — have focused on programs that build resilience and foster self-sufficiency.

The group is working mostly in communities with high rates of elderly and low-income populations. Among the priorities: to create emergency operation plans to cope during the next crisis, whatever that may be. The plans include evacuation protocols, psychological first aid and access to drinking water.

IsraAID is also working with 65 teachers from ASPIRA, a network of schools throughout Puerto Rico to build a resiliency curriculum to reduce levels of stress and trauma during and after an emergency. The program will serve 3,400 children.

In October, a new gravitational sand water filtration system built by IsraAID and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico will be up and running in Barrio Real, one of the small rural communities where IsraAID went door to door delivering temporary household water filters right after the hurricane.

The new filtration system does not require electricity to function.

Volunteers from San Juan’s small Jewish community trained by IsraAID have taught residents of Barrio Real how to keep their new water system safe from water-borne diseases and pollutants.

Volunteers from San Juan’s small Jewish community trained by IsraAID are teaching residents of Barrio Real how to keep their new water system safe from water-borne diseases and pollutants. (Courtesy IsraAID)

“The Jewish community is amazing. They’ve become strong activists. They’re eager to do other projects,” Broder said.

The Jewish volunteers include members of the local Chabad, the Conservative Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico-Shaarei Zedek Synagogue and the Reform Temple Beth Shalom.

Diego Mandelbaum, the religious director of the Jewish Community Center, said IsraAID has provided the local Jewish community with meaningful ways to help the wider Puerto Rican community, especially in poor, hard-to-reach areas.

“These are places that otherwise wouldn’t get much help,” Mandelbaum said.

The continuing presence of the Israeli humanitarian organization in Puerto Rico “is a great source of pride for the Jews of Puerto Rico,” he added.

Ari Berman, who served as an IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow in nearby Dominica after Maria destroyed much of the island, said he gained invaluable experience. The fellowship, whose main funder is the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – which is also one of many funders that support IsraAID missions – enables U.S. college students to work alongside IsraAID trauma, medical and water professionals in disaster zones around the world.

“Working in Dominica confirmed for me what good humanitarian aid looks like,” said Berman, a student at Harvard.

Hannah Gaventa, who served as IsraAID’s head of mission in Puerto Rico for most of this year and now leads its Dominica response team, helped formulate the organization’s long-term strategy in Puerto Rico. The emphasis, she said, was building sustainable programs that others could run even after IsraAID is no longer there.

A member of Schusterman’s ROI Community, which aims to support young Jewish leaders, Gaventa credited two ROI micro-grants – for a facilitation course and Spanish-language study — with helping give her the tools necessary to succeed at her job.

“At the facilitation course, I learned how to facilitate conversations and gatherings and meetings — you really want to bring out the voices of the people you’re working with,” she said. “In 2018, a micro-grant allowed me to take a Spanish learning course. Before the course I spoke just a few words of Spanish, and now I can work in the language.”

Sadly, humanitarian aid offered in the immediate wake of disasters often never reaches its intended target. In September, officials acknowledged that millions of water bottles dispatched to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria are still sitting, untouched, on the airport tarmac.

Food and donated clothing sent to Puerto Rico also ended up rotting in warehouses due to lack of coordination, according to Polizer. While most relief funding after disasters like Hurricane Maria go toward initial recovery, Polizer said long-term recovery needs are more critical – and typically not as well funded.

While IsraAID’s piece of the overall aid effort is relatively small, it’s carefully planned to avoid waste and maximize impact.

“The process takes time but it’s worth it,” Polizer said.

“As IsraAID’s goal for an affected area changes from direct relief to capacity building, we identify and work with local groups, religious groups, and local NGOs. The idea is to provide them with the tools they need to support themselves.”

(This article, sponsored by and produced in partnership with The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, is part of a series about how young Jews are transforming Jewish life in the 21st century. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.)

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Unopened letter sent to Anne Frank’s home fetches $11,000 at auction

Fri, 2018-09-21 16:06

Tourists lining up outside the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, June 15, 2015. (Lex Van Lieshout/AFP/Getty Images)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — An unopened letter that was mailed to the home of Anne Frank while she and her family were in hiding fetched more than $11,000 at an auction.

Bidding on the envelope, which came from an insurance company in 1942, began at $570 ahead of the auction, which took place Friday at the Corinphila Auction House in Amstelveen south of Amsterdam. The name of the new owner was not disclosed.

The letter is of “paramount importance, a testament to the most difficult period in the life of the Frank family, their underground existence,” the auction house wrote in a statement.

The envelope carries a red “return to sender” stamp and is addressed to Otto Frank, the teenage diarist’s father and the only member of her nuclear family who survived the Holocaust.

When it was sent to the family’s home in Merwede Square in Amsterdam’s south, the Franks were already in hiding in what is now called the Anne Frank House in the Dutch capital’s west. They hid there for over two years, until they were discovered and sent to concentration and death camps.

Anne Frank, who was 13 when she went into hiding with her family, wrote journals during her time there. Her father later edited them into a book titled “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Published in 1947, it became a bestseller and turned Anne Frank into a symbol of persecution and one of the world’s best-known Holocaust victims.

The unopened letter, which presumably never reached Otto Frank — he died in 1980 — was found among the belongings of  stamp collector Stefan Drukker following his death in 2013, the Trouw daily reported last moth. The envelope containing the weighty letter carries the logo of the British life insurance agency Gresham.

Nathan Bouscher, the auction house’s director, told Trouw that the envelope was found in a room containing other old envelopes that Drukker had collected for the stamps on them.

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Holocaust historians call shredding of death records by Hamburg archives ‘catastrophic’

Fri, 2018-09-21 15:59

(JTA) — The Hamburg State Archive shredded millions of death records, including those dating from the Nazi era.

A historian of the Holocaust called the records’ destruction “catastrophic.”

According to the Hamburg Morgen Post newspaper, the state cultural ministry is defending the decision by the archive’s director, Udo Schäfer, to destroy an estimated 1 million death certificates dating from 1876 to 1953.

But even Schäfer admits he made a mistake. In his own defense, he explained to the paper that “almost all the information” contained in the files is found in other archived documents, like death registries and in files from jails or hospitals.

Schäfer, who has directed the archive since 2001, now says he should have considered that historians and other scholars have cited the documents in their publications — and that these sources no longer exist. He said he would not make the same decision today.

Historian Sybille Baumbach, who has worked on reconstructing the life stories of Jewish Holocaust victims for the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel, told reporters that the death certificates contained information that — if recorded elsewhere at all — would be difficult to find, such as cause of death and the name and signature of the doctor who made the determination.

She said that in many cases these certificates provided important clues in cases of so-called euthanasia murders, because such deaths were far from natural and merciful, and the doctors who signed off on them often were the murderers themselves. Baumbach called the loss “catastrophic.”

The shredding has drawn criticism from politicians, historians and associations representing survivors of the Nazi regime. The documents have been considered important in research on Nazi crimes against humanity and have been consulted by the Hamburg association for cobblestone memorials, which mark the last domicile of victims who were deported and murdered.

Rainer Nicolaysen of the Hamburg Historical Association called it a “serious loss.” He told the Morgenpost that Schäfer had admitted to him in early August that he had wrongly thought the documents were duplicates.

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A Trump critic’s book about Prague is a metaphor for Jewish resistance to authoritarianism

Fri, 2018-09-21 15:47

The Schönborn Palace in Prague is now the home of the United States Embassy to the Czech Republic. (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — If you love something but can’t possess it, you write about it.

This, the secret axiom of many a besotted author, applies to the palatial embassy residence in Prague that seduced Norm Eisen. As U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, he lived in it for three years, from 2011-2014, and wrote about it for four, resulting in a lyrical paean running 300 pages.

“The Last Palace,” part memoir, part family history, tells the story of a century of European upheaval as it played out in one baronial Prague address.

But the house is not the only elusive love object in “The Last Palace,” which Eisen says has gone to three printings since its release two weeks ago. Also unrequited, to varying degrees, are Eisen’s longing for a Czech identity and his hopes for a democratic European future.

Threaded through this narrative of unrequited love is Eisen’s late mother, Frieda, who acts as a muse, a chorus and skeptic. When Eisen calls her from Air Force One in 2010 to tell her President Barack Obama has nominated him to be ambassador to the country she fled, she is less than enthused.

Back home in Los Angeles, she tells him: “You don’t know Europe like I do. It hasn’t changed that much.”

Eisen futilely implores his mother to join his family and live at the embassy and reminds her that she has spoken longingly of the former Czechoslovakia.

“Nachman, it’s a mistake to love a country,” she warns him. “It can’t love you back.”

Eight years later, he has to a degree internalized that lesson.

“It was incredibly satisfying to be able to live back in my mother’s homelands, the Czech and Slovak homelands, to be in the capital of the old Czechoslovakia,” Eisen, 57, said in an interview at his office at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow in governance studies (and a frequent TV critic of President Donald Trump),

“What I didn’t see, and what she warned me of, is all is not as rosy and nostalgic as it might seem,” he said.

At first, Eisen is only smitten by Prague, the Czech Republic and especially the embassy residence, a massive, curving wedding cake that has one foot in the Neoclassical period and another in 1920s Modernism. He is so taken that he rushes to tell his mother about its remarkable history, including a swastika stamped onto an inventory sticker beneath a French antique table.

“There are swastikas in the house?” she tells him. “Why would I want to visit any place that the Nazis liked?”

Eisen structures the book around the tensions between his enthusiasm for the house and the country and his mother’s child and young adulthood, under the Nazis and then the communists.

There are four parts, each covering a different resident of the house. They are riveting and each includes twists that you would simultaneously enjoy but deride as manipulative were they to appear in fiction (spoiler alerts!). The characters include:

–Otto Petschek, the Jewish coal baron who almost bankrupted himself building the house as a love letter to his beloved wife, only to die within four years of its completion from mysterious pains.

–Rudolf Toussaint, the German general and the Nazi commander of forces in Prague, who carefully preserved the house — including its Jewish memorabilia — and who bargained with the resistance over his son’s life in the messy final days of the Nazi occupation.

–Laurence Steinhardt, the Jewish postwar ambassador who established the building as the U.S. embassy and lived in it with his wife and daughter while entertaining his mistress, Cecilia Sternberg, a Czech countess. In a denouement out of “Casablanca,” Steinhardt secures safe passage out of Prague for Cecilia and her husband as the communists consolidate control over Prague.

–Shirley Temple Black, the U.S. ambassador during the “Velvet Revolution,” when Czechoslovakia shucked off its communist leaders in 1989. Black risked her host government’s censure and worse by appearing in public with the dissenters and assuring U.S. support for their struggle. Back at the residence the former child star marked the victory with an impromptu performance for her staff of “The Good Ship Lollipop,” “singing and dancing around the room in pure joy.”

Each part has four chapters: Three about the resident, and the fourth about Eisen’s mother’s journey — creating juxtapositions that are variously nostalgic and, in Frieda’s case, unsparingly unsentimental.

“The past is never dead, it’s not even past,” Eisen titles the last chapter, quoting Faulkner.

Norm Eisen, left, meeting Vaclav Havel in Prague. (Forum 2000)

Soon after he arrives, Eisen meets Vaclav Havel, the playwright dissident who became the post-communist president of Czechoslovakia (and who presided over its dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Eisen asks Havel’s advice and it is surprising: “You must be a very undiplomatic diplomat.”

Eisen soon understands Havel’s meaning: Under then-President Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Republic was veering towards illiberalism. Eisen attends a commemoration at Lety, the site of a Nazi concentration camp for Roma people, and emerges from his car into the overwhelming stench of the adjacent pig farm. He discards his prepared remarks and berates the government for the disrespect toward a minority that still suffers discrimination.

A top aide to Klaus repeats racist tropes about Obama. Another senior official delivers a letter to the embassy denouncing its support for an LGBT pride march.

His mother, closely monitoring his ambassadorship, worries about Eisen. He insists that these are the expressions of the lunatic fringe.

These are government officials, she remonstrates.

“Milacku [Dear], how can you be so blind? The Jews, the Gypsies, now the gays — you don’t see a pattern here?”

Eisen indeed detects a pattern, and not just in the Czech Republic: Klaus’ illiberalism is replicated across the continent, in Hungary, in Poland, in the rise of the far right in Britain, France and Italy, in the spread of Russian influence and in the leadership of Vladimir Putin — and in the United States, with the election of Trump.

Eisen’s book, planned as a love letter, has become a warning.

“Trump is on every page of my book even though his name never appears,” he said.

Eisen is on the frontlines of the “resistance” to Trump. Prior to his ambassadorship, he was “ethics czar” in the Obama White House. (He and Obama were classmates at Harvard Law.) Eisen co-founded in 2003 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and he is its chairman. CREW has filed a lawsuit claiming Trump’s businesses continue to illegally receive money from foreign governments.

Eisen and George W. Bush’s ethics czar, Richard Painter, are a bipartisan tag team, flooding cable TV and op-ed pages with blasts against Trump policies and practices, particularly Trump’s flirtations with the far right and his derision of minorities.

The book ends on a hopeful note: His mother finally agrees to come visit.

“Let’s pick a date,” he quotes her as saying in closing the book. He could not bring himself to add that she never made it.

“She took ill and she passed,” he said in the interview.

Her resilience, the steel that carried her through the Nazi horrors and then the Communist brutality, lives on in her son, but he preserves his optimism.

“Trump is hostile to all forms of liberal democracy. We’re in the third night of democracy: fascism, cold war communism, and the third night is Putin and Trump,” he said. “But democracy is much stronger than its adversaries.”

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Bloody prayer shawl from Yom Kippur pogrom found in former Lodz ghetto

Fri, 2018-09-21 14:51

(JTA) — Part of a blood-stained prayer shawl from a 1940 Yom Kippur pogrom was found in the former ghetto of Lodz, Poland and brought to Israel, its finder said.

The part of the shawl, or tallit, is a decorative collar known as an atarah. It was discovered this month by a worker with the Shem Olam Holocaust museum near Hadera in Israel under the wooden floor of a structure that used to be part of the Jewish ghetto of the central Polish city, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Friday.

According to the museum’s director, Avraham Kriger, the blood on the tallit belonged to a victim of a Nazi-led pogrom that erupted on the eve of Yom Kippur in 1940.

Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the local Judenrat, the Jewish council appointed by the Nazis to administer life inside the ghetto, had arranged for Yom Kippur prayers to take place at a former cinema that had been turned into a synagogue, according to the Channel 2 report, which is based on Shem Olam’s research.

Nazi officers came to witness the Yom Kippur event, along with Rumkowski. Thousands of Jews had amassed at the entrance to the theater, as hundreds prayed inside. At a certain point, ghetto police officers began violently dispersing the crowd, resulting in the death of several people, according to the report. Nazi officers also joined the beating.

The bloody tallit collar was discovered during renovations to the former theater, Channel 2 reported, along with several crumbling prayer books.

“It’s a chilling, a rare, find,” Kriger, whose institution focuses on religious life during the Holocaust, told Channel 2. “It attests as to Jewish religious life in the ghetto and the unfathomable cruelty of the German murders, who showed no mercy even on the holiest day to the Jews, never ceasing to butcher, Jews abuse and murder them in cold blood.”

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Polish town accused of turning Jewish cemetery into soccer field

Fri, 2018-09-21 13:54

(JTA) — A state-funded sports complex was built on a disused Jewish cemetery in southeastern Poland, several Jewish groups complained.

The complex, comprising a basketball and soccer court, was inaugurated on Sept. 6 at a ribbon- cutting ceremony in Klimontow, a town located 20 miles northeast of Krakow, according to the municipality’s website. It said the project has received more than $90,000 in government funding.

But according to the Shem Olam Holocaust museum near Hadera in Israel, the complex is located atop the former Jewish cemetery fo the town, which before the Holocaust had thousands of Jewish residents.

“This is deeply offensive to the Jewish People,” the museum’s director, Rabbi Avraham Kriger, wrote to the municipality last week, the news site Kipa reported.

Meir Bulka, an Israeli Holocaust commemoration activist and founder of the J-Nerations organization, told JTA that he believes the municipality was aware of the cemetery’s location when it built the complex on it. “They laid down piping there. There is no doubt they encountered graves,” he said Friday.

The municipality of Klimontow did not reply to telephone calls and an email from JTA requesting their reaction to the claims.

Yaakov Haguel, acting director of the World Zionist Organization, said he holds the Polish government responsible for the construction in Klimontow, which he called “a kick delivered to Polish Jewry Poland.”

In a statement, he noted the passing in January in Warsaw of a law prohibiting blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes, calling it “an attempt to blur history, compounded by insensitivity to Polish Jews” in Klimontow. “The Polish government must respect Jews as it does any other citizen. Such events must not be allowed to recur in Poland and beyond,” he added.

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After foot-dragging, Romanian Holocaust victims got $10 million since 2015

Fri, 2018-09-21 12:42

(JTA) — Romanian Holocaust survivors have received $10 million in payments since 2015, the World Jewish Restitution Organization said.

The funds have been distributed to thousands of recipients from that country, which after decades of resistance and foot-dragging has in recent years taken some major steps toward offering compensation to victims of the genocide perpetrated by its former ally, Nazi Germany, and local collaborators.

During the High Holidays, WJRO distributed extra aid among 142 impoverished recipients, including a 104-year-old who lives alone in Israel, the organization said.

“These funds help Holocaust victims live with the dignity they deserve,” Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations, said in a statement last week.

Over the past three years, payments of over  $1,900 were made to 1,393 needy Holocaust survivors from Israel from funding obtained after 2015. Another 1,067 needy survivors reveiced $600 payments.

In 2017, extra funds for Romanian Holocaust survivors living outside Israel and Romania were set aside and $600,000 distributed among those recipients. Another $1.3 is to be given out to the same group this year.

The program for Romanian Holocaust survivors is administered by the Claims Conference on behalf of the Caritatea Foundation, which was formed as a partnership of the WJRO and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania.

In 2016, legislation making it easier for Holocaust survivors to press restitution claims passed in Romania’s Parliament.

But Romania has not addressed heirless or unclaimed property left by victims of Holocaust persecution. Years after the expiration of a deadline for filing claims for private-owned property stolen during the Holocaust, Romanian authorities have processed less than half of some 250,000 claims.

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Dutch Islamist politician: Yom Kippur fast won’t atone for Israel’s sins

Fri, 2018-09-21 12:15

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A Dutch Muslim politician who has prayed for Allah to “exterminate the Zionists” said that a day of fasting on Yom Kippur will not suffice to atone for Israel’s sins.

 

Arnoud van Doorn, a lawmaker of the Hague’s city council for the Islamist Party for Unity, wrote on Sept. 18 on Twitter: “Israel celebrates Yom Kippur tomorrow. I’d make it a month. One day to reflect on all its errors and regret them is not enough.”

Separately, the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, who is Muslim, last week announced he has ordered prosecutors to look into calls that referenced killing Jews during a demonstration in July 2017.


Van Doorn’s tweet was denounced as anti-Semitic in the Dutch media, including De Dagelijkse Standaard website, and on social networks, where dozens of users mockingly asked him whether the month-long Muslim daytime fast of Ramadan was a response to the volume of moral sins performed by followers of that faith.

 

Responding to his critics on Twitter, van Doorn reminded them that in Israel “one politician after another is being tried for corruption.” But this prompted fresh ridicule by users who pointed out that corruption trials are preferable to their absence in Israel’s corrupt neighbor states.

 

In May, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, which is the Netherlands’ main watchdog group on anti-Semitism, filed a complaint for incitement to violence against van Doorn after he wished for Allah to “exterminate the Zionists.”


He wrote on May 14: “It’s busy in heaven,” talking about more than 60 Palestinians shot and killed that day by Israeli troops during Hamas-organized attempts to cross the border between Gaza and Israel. “May Allah exterminate the Zionists.”


Last year another lawmaker of the same party, Abdoe Khoulani, called Israeli children “Zionist terrorists in training” and “future child murderers and occupiers.” Dutch prosecutors dismissed complaints against Khoulani, saying that his remarks did not constitute incitement to hate.

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France to open Dreyfus museum at Emil Zola House, historian says

Fri, 2018-09-21 11:44

(JTA) — Preparations are underway for opening a state museum in France for the wrongly-persecuted Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, a prominent historian said.

The new museum is on course for opening late next year in the Parisian suburb of Médan, according to Alain Pages, a retired Sorbonne University professor of history who edits the Cahiers Naturalistes magazine and website about writer Emil Zola.

Partly thanks to Zola’s protests, the 1894 treason conviction of Dreyfus was decried internationally as a miscarriage of justice rooted in anti-Semitic bias, for which the affair became a symbol. In 1899, Dreyfus was pardoned by the French president and released, and in 1906 a military commission officially exonerated him.

The plan to set up a museum for Dreyfus, whose trial served as a catalyst for Zionism, was announced in March by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Dreyfus museum will open next fall inside the Emil Zola House in Medan, which is a monument comprising a museum that opened in 1984 for the author, Pages revealed in an interview that he gave the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, and which was published Thursday on that organization’s website.

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Israel may recognize Catalonia if Spain does so for Palestinians, lobby group warns

Fri, 2018-09-21 11:24

(JTA) — Spanish recognition of Palestinian statehood may well prompt Israel to do the same for Catalonia, a prominent Madrid-based lobby group for the Jewish state said.

The head of the ACOM group, Angel Mas, issued the warning last week in an op-ed for the ABC daily. It came amid reports — which were confirmed Thursday by Spanish Foreign Minister Minister Josep Borrell — that Spain is pushing for recognition of what is call the State of Palestine by the European Union and will recognize it regardless of the bloc’s position.

But if that happens, Mas wrote, “there is a real possibility that Israel will decide to recognize Catalonia as a state.”

Catalonian separatism plunged Spain into a major crisis in October. Federal police clashed with voters over an illegal referendum on independence and the region’s parliament in Barcelona passed a motion declaring independence from Spain despite the federal government’s warning to desist. Madrid dissolved the regional government in a bid to block secession.

ACOM is one of Spain’s most high-profile organizations defending Israel and has won dozens of court cases, thanks to private funding by donors, against organizations promoting a boycott of Israel. On Sept. 4, a court in Huelva in southwestern Spain scrapped a vote by the town of Ayamonte that declared the municipality part of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS. The Spanish judiciary considers such actions discriminatory.

Asked about ACOM’s analysis on the probability of Israeli recognition for Catalonia, Emmanuel Nahshon, the top spokesperson of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told JTA: “I do not comment on speculations.”

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