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Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party has anti-Semitism baggage — and a new leader with Jewish roots

1 hour 3 min ago

(JTA) — Jobbik, a Hungarian far-right party who critics call institutionally anti-Semitic, has elected a man with Jewish roots, Peter Jakab, as its president.

Jakab, 39, received more than 87 percent of the vote in a primary election Saturday, the news site 444.hu reported.

Jakab, a practicing Catholic, has been accused of anti-Semitism in Hungarian media after he blamed Jews for generating anti-Semitism for financial gain. He has also denied that he or Jobbik were anti-Semitic.

His election to the party’s most senior post comes three years after its leaders took steps to rehabilitate its image. One of Jobbik’s recent leaders, Gabor Vona, led this policy, which included extending Hanukkah greetings to the leaders of Hungarian Jewry.

Last year, Jobbik allied itself with left-wing parties to hurt the ruling Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in local elections. The alliance was effective in taking several key municipalities away from Fidesz

Jakab has often spoken openly of his Jewish ancestry.  “Since my childhood, I knew from my parents that my grandmother is Jewish,” he said in a 2014 interview for Alfahir. “She raised 11 children in a peasant farmhouse in poverty but in dignity. I was also aware that my great-grandfather died at Auschwitz,” Jakab added.

Jakab has cited this background to qualify his statements about Jews and Israel, which prompted the popular Origo news site to report in 2018 that anti-Semitism “is the one constant element in Peter Jakab’s career.”

In 2014, Jakab appeared to blame Jews for anti-Semitism and abusing the memory of the Holocaust for financial gain.

“We hear nothing in the media about how Jewish clergy want to cash in on the Holocaust. Let’s face it, they have a huge responsibility in the fact that today, a significant part of Hungarian society feels that we don’t need to remember the Holocaust,” Jakab said.

“It is these Jewish leaders who generate the prejudices that they can use to collect millions for more programs fighting anti-Semitism,” he added.

Jakab wrote that Israel “violates Hungarian interests” and that, “It is finally time for Hungarian Jewry, and especially its leading class, to be absorbed” into Hungarian society.

This rhetoric was typical of how Jobbik politicians spoke about Jews, other minorities and Israel for years prior to the rehabilitation campaign that began in 2016.

Another Jobbik lawmaker, Csanad Szegedi, was forced to resign in 2012 after creating what the party called a “spiral of lies” in an attempt to conceal his own Jewish identity.

Tamas Sneider, Jakab’s successor as president, is a former skinhead who confessed to beating a Roma person in 1992 with metal cables in an allegedly racist attack. In a 2013 speech in parliament, another Jobbik leader, Marton Gyongyosi, called for drawing up a list of all Hungarian Jews because they are “security risks.”

Rabbi Shlomo Koves, the head of the Hungarian Jewish group known as EMIH, wrote to Jakab in 2014, warning him that, “your party will repay you just as Jobbik’s spiritual ancestors repaid your ancestors” — a reference to the slaughter of thousands of Jews by Hungarian pro-Nazi fascists’ during World War II.

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Trump administration, Democratic leadership mark Auschwitz liberation

Sat, 2020-01-25 22:51

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In proclamations and in visits to Poland and Israel, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and an array of lawmakers and government officials marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with pledges to combat rising anti-Semitism and protect Israel.

Trump on Friday released a proclamation marking the liberation’s anniversary, which will be on Monday. “We remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and pay tribute to the American soldiers and other Allied Forces who fought tirelessly to defeat the Nazi regime,” Trump said. “We also recommit ourselves to the fight against anti-Semitism and to the two words that cannot be repeated often enough: Never Again.”

Trump also committed to protecting Israel. “As I have said in the past, the State of Israel is an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people,” he said. “To those who will seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, we say: Never Again.”

Pence and Pelosi traveled to Jerusalem last week to join commemorations at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin led delegations to Auschwitz.

Pelosi, an aide told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, met beforehand with an Auschwitz survivor to better understand the death camp as she toured it.

In remarks Thursday to a European Jewish Congress dinner in Jerusalem, Pelosi recounted her long history of associations with pro-Israel and pro-Jewish causes, from the pre-state advocacy for a Jewish state by her late father, U.S. Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro, to her role before her political career in establishing a Holocaust memorial in San Francisco and her advocacy on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

She recalled specifically protesting the imprisonment of the refusenik who is now her counterpart, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and who was present at the dinner.

“My experience was in my home city of San Francisco and only several years before I was in Congress,” she said. “We would hold up his picture. He had a little beard, long hair and the rest — so cute — and we would hold up his picture and chant his name to free him — to ‘free Yuli, to free Yuli’. It was part of our whole program to free the refuseniks. He was the personification of it.”

Democrats in their remarks tended to emphasize the threat of anti-Semitic violence in the United States and Europe, while Republicans focused on the threat to Israel, although officials from both parties at least alluded to both issues.

“Wwe must also stand strong against the leading state purveyor of anti-Semitism, against the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map,” Pence said at Yad Vashem. “The world must stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, Israel. on January 23, 2020(Haim Tzach – Pool/Getty Images)

Pelosi gave over the weekly Democratic radio address to Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., a Jewish Chicago area congressman who was part of her delegation.

“A key lesson of the Holocaust is that we cannot remain silent in the face of rising antisemitism,” Schneider said. “Right now, that lesson is more important than ever, in the face of a dramatic increase in antisemitism around the world, and specifically here in the United States.” Schneider listed violent and at times deadly attacks over the last two years in Pittsburgh, Poway, California, Jersey City, New Jersey and Monsey, New York.

Lawmakers in Congress also timed the introduction or advancement of Holocaust-related bills with the Auschwitz anniversary.

In the House, Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) announced plans to introduce a non-binding resolution Monday marking the Auschwitz liberation. A similar resolution in the Senate has been introduced by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Separately, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., will on Monday hold a press conference to urge the advance of their Never Again Holocaust Education Act, which would provide Holocaust education materials to schools.

The resolutions and the bill have the backing of an array of Jewish and Holocaust remembrance organizations.

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Bernie Sanders rolls out his Jewish Bernie campaign video

Sat, 2020-01-25 22:48

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bernie Sanders launched a campaign video highlighting his Jewish identity and casting President Donald Trump as part of the white nationalist threat.

The four-minute video posted Thursday night on Sanders’ Twitter feed, interpolates excerpts from Sanders’ speech last year to J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, with commentary by Joel Rubin, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director.

It starts with Sanders’ declaration of pride in being Jewish. “I’m very proud to be Jewish and look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country,” Sanders says.

During his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders at first played down his Jewish background, although he was the first Jewish major-party candidate to win nominating contests. This cycle, he has emphasized his Jewishness.

The video otherwise focuses almost entirely on the threat that Sanders says President Donald Trump poses to Jews and other minorities.

“Jewish values teach us that community matters, that tolerance matters, that engaging the other matters,” Rubin says, and notes his roots in Pittsburgh where in 2018 a gunman killed 11 worshippers at The Tree of Life synagogue complex, “some of whom were friends of my parents.”

“We live in a perilous time where not only are white nationalists attacking our synagogues and raising hate speech on the internet, we have a white nationalist right now sitting in the White House,” Rubin says, referring to Trump’s equivocation in condemning neo-Nazis after a deadly march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

“We need to have someone in office who gets it, gets it in his kishkes, understands what it really means to ensure that we are healing our world,” Rubin says.

The video does not address Israel policy at all. Sanders has said he is pro-Israel and would work to secure the country, but also has sharply criticized its treatment of Palestinians and says he would leverage aid to Israel to make changes.

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Rashida Tlaib retweets then removes account falsely implicating Israelis in child’s death

Sat, 2020-01-25 22:47

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Rashida Tlaib retweeted then removed a Tweet falsely blaming Israelis for the death of a Palestinian child.

Tlaib, a Palestinian American who is a Michigan Democrat and one of only two lawmakers to back the boycott Israel movement, retweeted a tweet by Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian official, who was quote-tweeting an account, realSeifBitar, that accused Israeli settlers of kidnapping, assaulting and throwing into a well a seven-year-old child. “The heart just shatters,” Ashrawi said.

In fact, The Jerusalem Post reported, the boy, Qusai Abu Ramila, appears to have drowned accidentally in a reservoir of rainwater in eastern Jerusalem. Israeli first responders found him on Saturday and tried to revive him.

Tlaib removed her retweet, and Ashrawi eventually apologized for “retweeting something that’s not fully verified.”

Dani Dayan, the Israeli consul general in New York, took Tlaib to task for spreading what he called a “blood libel.”

“I am always extremely cautious in criticizing U.S. elected officials,” Dayan said on Twitter. “However, when an American elected official retweets an unfounded blood libel against Jewish Israelis, I cannot remain silent. Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib just did.”

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Benny Gantz agrees to meet with Trump, but separately from Netanyahu

Sat, 2020-01-25 22:44

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel’s opposition Blue and White Party, has agreed to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but will do so separately from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz will meet Trump on Monday, his party said and will be back in time for the first vote on Tuesday in a process in which the Knesset will decide whether Netanyahu as prime minister is immune from corruption charges.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday invited Netanyahu and Gantz to meet Trump on Tuesday, and Trump later confirmed that his long-awaited peace plan would be a topic of discussion, and might be released before the meeting.

Netanyahu immediately accepted, but Gantz delayed his response, reportedly because he suspected that Trump was releasing the plan to boost Netanyahu’s electoral chances ahead of March 2 elections, and as a distraction from the corruption charges.

Gantz’s compromise solution allows him to treat Trump’s peace plan seriously while maintaining pressure on Netanyahu to go to trial on the corruption charges.

On Saturday, Gantz spoke in English and in Hebrew to praise Trump and his unseen peace plan. He said he had held “many” meetings in recent months to discuss the plan with Trump’s advisors, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“The content of our conversations, just like the details of the plan, will remain secret for now,” he said. “I can, however, tell you that the ‘Peace Plan’, devised by President Trump, will go down in history as a meaningful landmark, mapping the way for different players in the Middle East to finally move ahead towards a historic regional agreement.”

Netanyahu will meet Trump as planned on Tuesday. Kann, an Israeli broadcaster, cited sources close to Netanyahu who said the prime minister would also meet Trump on Monday.

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Michael Bloomberg launches Jewish outreach

Sat, 2020-01-25 22:43

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor running for president, is launching his Jewish outreach in Miami.

Bloomberg is rolling out “United for Mike,” the name for his Jewish campaign, at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Miami on Sunday afternoon.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, in November named Abigail Pogrebin, an author who has written on Jewish issues, as his Jewish outreach director.

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Morocco opens $1.5 million center dedicated to Jewish culture in city of Essaouira

Fri, 2020-01-24 20:37

(JTA) — Morocco’s king has inaugurated a $1.5 million center dedicated to Jewish culture in the city of Essaouira.

Last week, King Mohammed VI attended the inauguration for Bayt Dakira, which means House of Memory in Arabic.

The port city was formerly home to a large population of Jews, who at one point making up 40 percent of the population. Most Jews fled Morocco because of the hostility they felt following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and in decades after.

Today less than a handful of Jews reside in the city.

The center is located in a restored home that houses a small synagogue and includes a museum, research center and space that will host cultural events. The project was created by Andre Azoulay, a France-educated Moroccan Jew who serves as a senior adviser to the king.

Most of the funding came from the Moroccan government, with a quarter coming from private donors.

Among a number of high-profile Moroccan Jews who attended the event and a dinner with the king afterwards were Azoulay and his daughter, Audrey, who serves as the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, Moroccan Jewish comedian Gad Elmaleh and the chief rabbi of Geneva, Switzerland Izhak Dayan.

Under King Mohammed VI, Morocco has made efforts to preserve Jewish sites. The country is home to a Jewish museum in Casablanca, which along with an adjacent synagogue was renovated and rededicated in 2016.

Jason Guberman, the director of the American Sephardi Federation, which is serving as a partner organization to Bayit Dakira, praised the king for his efforts.

“On the one hand it has the museum and it’s going to be about studying the past, but it’s also very much about doing events and bringing people to Essaouira today,” Guberman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It says a lot about Morocco’s future, the fact that the king would come to open up a center like this.”

The American Sephardi Federation also sent a letter together with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to the king of Morocco thanking him for opening the center.

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Bus carrying Hasidic boys to weekend retreat in the Catskills flips over, injuring 18

Fri, 2020-01-24 20:33

NEW YORK (JTA) — A bus carrying approximately 40 teenage boys from a Hasidic town in upstate New York to a weekend retreat flipped over, injuring 18.

The incident occurred around 1:20 p.m. on Friday.

The bus was coming from the village of New Square and heading into the Catskills for Shabbat, according to a spokesman for Catskills Hatzalah. The injured teenagers, who sustained a range of injuries, were sent to three local hospitals.

Hatzalah did not know what caused the accident.

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The Tell: It’s candidate endorsement season

Fri, 2020-01-24 19:53

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief. Sign up here to receive The Tell in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

WASHINGTON (JTA) — It’s less than two weeks to the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucus, which means that congressional endorsements of presidential candidates are beginning to trickle in.

A lawmaker backing a candidate this early in the race may reflect a desire to tap into the White House wannabe’s support system or a bid to be considered for a top job in the next administration. If the lawmaker is in a position of leadership or prominence, it’s also a means of shaping the race at a critical juncture. Sometimes it’s simply a function of being from the same state as the candidate.

Nine Jewish lawmakers have made their choices known — that’s not counting the two who are running — Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Michael Bennet of Colorado, whose mother is Jewish but who does not identify as Jewish.

There are 28 Jewish members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 26 Democrats and two Republicans, and nine Jewish Democrats in the Senate with Bennet included.

More endorsements will come as the crowd of 12 Democrats thins in the wake of early nominating contests in Iowa (Feb. 3) New Hampshire (Feb. 11), Nevada (Feb. 22) and South Carolina (Feb. 29), and then the 16 primaries on March 3, Super Tuesday.

The two Jewish Republicans, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee, are like the vast majority of the GOP caucuses solidly in the camp of President Donald Trump, who faces just two long-shot primary contenders.

The seven Jewish Democrats who have endorsed don’t follow such a homogenous pattern:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Warren has garnered the endorsements of Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Andy Levin, D-Mich.

It’s a grouping that reflects the subtle division that the Massachusetts senator has forged between herself and Sanders, the other candidate who is a flag-bearer for party progressives. Warren has made peace with the party establishment in a way that Sanders has not: Former President Barack Obama has talked Warren up to donors, while Hillary Clinton, the 2016 nominee, has made clear that she still holds a grudge against Sanders for his challenge.

Warren has the endorsement of 13 lawmakers overall, while Sanders has eight.

Schakowsky, Levin and Raskin are each in their way progressive royalty within the establishment. They are also in easy-win districts, meaning their endorsement of Warren is less a matter of mutual back-scratching — they won’t really need her in November — and more a matter of signaling to their followers whom to back at this early stage.

Schakowsky and Levin also are from the Midwest, already perceived as a must-win battleground in November’s contest against Trump, and are useful endorsements ahead of the Iowa caucus. Levin’s endorsement emphasized the economic insecurity that helped drive Trump to the presidency.

“I’m going for the kitchen-table stuff — trade, wages, good jobs, education, health care,” Levin told the Detroit News in July. “I think she’s the whole package and I’m really excited to support her.”

Schakowsky, who was first elected in 1998, wields considerable power as the chief deputy whip in the House and has been a mentor to younger progressives. In her Warren endorsement video posted Dec. 12, Schakowsky comes across very much as a party elder, saying that her closeness to the senator dates back to 2008, when Warren first advocated for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Schakowsky also reminds viewers that she was among the first to see potential in “a skinny guy from Chicago,” a reference to Obama.

In 2018, Levin inherited his Detroit-area district from his father, Sander, who had served since 1983. The younger Levin has attracted attention for his ability to work with Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American congresswoman who has rattled the party establishment with her anti-Israel views and confrontations not only with Republicans but her party’s leadership. (Tlaib has endorsed Sanders.)

Raskin also has a progressive pedigree — his father, Marcus, founded an influential progressive think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies. He has shone since his 2016 election as a constitutional scholar on the House Judiciary Committee and has taken a lead in impeaching Trump.

Of the three Warren endorsements, Raskin’s was the only one to emphasize a specifically Jewish issue: combating anti-Semitism.

“All over the world authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, racism and fascism are on the march and the forces of democracy and freedom and equality are under siege everywhere,” Raskin begins. “And our president in his bottomless stupidity and greed finds very good people on both sides in this struggle and repeatedly aligns our country with the despots and dictators, from Putin in Russia and Orban in Hungary and al Sisi in Egypt.” (Viktor Orban, particularly, has come under fire from critics who say he is allowing anti-Semitism to fester in his country.)

Raskin, Schakowsky and Levin also all have been endorsed by the political action committee aligned with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group.

Joe Biden

The former vice president has garnered the endorsements of Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

For Luria, the endorsement is at least in part payback — Biden endorsed the freshman in 2018 ahead of a close race in a district that had voted Trump in 2016, and where she has faced some backlash for supporting Trump’s impeachment.

It also sends an early and clear signal to her voters that she remains very much in the center that is the former vice president’s stomping ground. It’s not a coincidence that she announced her endorsement on Jan. 5, the same day as two other freshmen in Pennsylvania districts that Trump won, Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan.

Luria’s endorsement says that Biden is more likely to win “in tough districts like mine,” but also alludes to the foreign policy hawkishness that is popular in her district, which includes the largest Navy base in the world (Luria is a former U.S. Navy commander). She calls Biden “battle tested” and predicts he will “restore our standing on the world stage.”

Feinstein’s Biden endorsement in October set tongues wagging — the prediction had been that she would endorse her old friend, but as a courtesy would wait until Sen. Kamala Harris, the state’s junior senator, had dropped out of the presidential stakes. (Harris quit the race in December.) Feinstein certainly didn’t need to endorse anyone: She was re-elected easily in 2018 and, at 86, is not likely to seek a Cabinet post.

In her endorsement, Feinstein cited her years working with Biden in the Senate — she was first elected in 1992, two decades after his election — and his support for gun control. The issue has defined Feinstein since she became mayor of San Francisco following the assassination of the incumbent.

Another factor might be their shared belief in a robust American foreign policy, a contrast with the retreat of an American presence overseas that Trump has embodied — and which to a degree Sanders and Warren have embraced.

Biden also has the majority of congressional endorsements overall: 36 in the House and five in the Senate.

Mike Bloomberg

The former NYC mayor earned the endorsement of Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., on Jan. 13.

Like Luria, Rose is a military veteran seeking centrist traction in a district that he first won in 2018, but that Trump won two years earlier. Rose’s district encompasses Staten Island and a patch of Brooklyn. For Rose, though, Bloomberg — who in 2018 gave money to Rose’s Republican opponent — makes more sense than Biden. Bloomberg was a popular, thrice-elected mayor who entered City Hall as a Republican and on some issues is to the right of Biden. Rose has pugnaciously taken on not only Trump but at times his party’s leadership.

“I have no problem with people who are independent thinkers and who choose to support people who are at times across the aisle,” Rose told NY1 last month.

Amy Klobuchar’s campaign on Tuesday announced that freshman Rep. Dean Phillips, also of Minnesota, would join other Minnesotans, including USA curling gold medalist coach Phill Drobnick, in organizing “Hotdish House Parties” — apparently a thing in Minnesota — for the U.S. senator. Phillips’ endorsement appears to be in the “she’s from my state” category.

In Other News Calmpeachment

Much of the coverage of the Senate’s impeachment trial of Trump has focused on the rancor. The Washington Post captures the notorious early Wednesday morning back-and-forth between New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, one of the Democrats managing impeachment, and White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, culminating in an admonishment by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who gets to say “pettifogging.”

Here are two moments of comity, or something approaching it. NBC News caught Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s most strident defenders, telling Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., that he was doing a “good job” as the lead impeachment manager, a role that Graham held during the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. (Schiff and Nadler are Jewish.)

And Halie Soifer, the director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, got a much coveted seat to watch the proceedings live and saw senators paying close attention and taking “copious” notes. Soifer credited “both sides of the aisle” for “understanding the gravity of the moment,” a tonic — from a partisan, no less! — to reporting that Republicans are not taking the proceedings seriously.

Fool you twice

The first time giving press credentials to TruNews, an outlet that deals in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, may have been a White House oversight. A second time — for a major event like the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, and after multiple news outlets (including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) explicitly pointed out the toxicity of the TruNews content to the White House — and you gotta wonder.

The fire this time … didn’t happen

Did right-wing extremists make good on a promise to show up and disrupt a pro-gun in Richmond, Virginia? A few showed up, but there were no disruptions of consequence. The vast majority of protesters were conventional, and peaceful, Second Amendment enthusiasts. It was not Charlottesville 2.0. The town’s JCC was running a Jewish food festival, which some locals preferred to the Capitol goings-on.

Mike doesn’t like

We wrote last week about where the leading Democrats are on Iran policy. A spokesman for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg updates us with more detail: Hizzoner didn’t like the Iran deal, but also didn’t like how Trump pulled out of it.

Mayor Pete talks

Pete Buttigieg contributes the second piece in our solicitation from leading presidential contenders on how they would combat anti-Semitism and relate to Israel. The first was by Biden.

Worth A Look

A fabulist insinuated herself into a group of formerly Orthodox Jews and persuaded her new friends that she had a similar upbringing … and was dying of cancer. Neither claim was true. At Longreads, Dvora Meyers writes about the devastation her former friend left in her wake.

Tweet So Sweet

At the risk of getting in the middle of it — I like @BernieSanders.

Now let's move on, America.

— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) January 21, 2020

Tom Steyer, a billionaire, keeps on trying to get the attention of Bernie Sanders, who does not love billionaires, and keeps getting the brush-off. Steyer wants America to get over it.

Stay In Touch

Share your thoughts on The Tell, or suggest a topic for us. Connect with Ron Kampeas on Twitter at @kampeas or email him at thetell@jta.org.

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief. Sign up here to receive The Tell in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

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After 38 years, Jewish convict who helped 1,500 inmates earn degrees is released from prison

Fri, 2020-01-24 19:51

BLYTHE, Calif. (J., the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California via JTA) — James A. “Sneaky” White Jr., a Jewish inmate convicted of murder and imprisoned for nearly four decades, is now a free man. As he stepped out of prison on Jan. 21 to begin his life anew, his many supporters in the Jewish community were rejoicing with him.

Among them was Rabbi Mendel Kessler, a Chabad rabbi who worked as the Jewish chaplain at Ironwood State Prison in Riverside County, where White spent nearly two decades of his life-without-parole sentence.

“Many tried over the years with better connections” to get White released, said Kessler. “It was just what the Almighty wanted, at this time, in this way.”

White, who grew up in a mostly kosher Jewish home, ordered kosher meals in prison and wore a kippah while at Ironwood, gained supporters during his long incarceration by doing charitable work, initiating a college education program for inmates and starting a veterans organization. He also put effort into his own self-improvement.

Chabad Rabbi Yonason Denebeim, who was chaplain at Ironwood before Kessler, said in a 2018 interview that White had “a genuine concern about other inmates, and his desire to assist those who were willing to put in the effort to improve the quality of their lives went far beyond the prison system.”

Major life highlight happened today, watching James A. White, Jr., a lifer who I wrote about in 2018, go free. Kvelling. https://t.co/zdNpBSYumg pic.twitter.com/oKF1xlOR0q

— Alix Wall (@WallAlix) January 21, 2020

“I am truly grateful to the creator and all of his agents that have held fast and true in reaching this joyous day, Baruch HaShem,” Denebeim said.

White gave additional credit for his release to J., which published an article about him on March 22, 2018.

“None of this would have been possible without the J.,” White said, his voice cracking, over his first non-prison meal in 38 years — a vegetarian omelet with an English muffin and tea at the Black Bear Diner in Vacaville, about a mile from the California Medical Facility where he had been incarcerated for the past two years because of his age (he’s approaching 80). “The article the J. did about me is what finally forced the governor to deal with my case.”

A few months after the J. piece was published, an investigator from then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s office visited White, and after a long interview told him that he’d be recommending parole. That August, a number of advocates — former inmates whom he had helped, fellow Vietnam vets and Kessler — spoke on his behalf before the parole board in Sacramento. White was approved for parole later that day. His case was forwarded to the state Supreme Court, and in December 2018 his sentence was commuted by Brown. (His release was delayed another year after a district attorney from Los Angeles County, where the crime was committed, argued against it but did not prevail.)

White was a highly decorated helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, which is where he earned the nickname Sneaky, for sneaking through a field filled with landmines. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when in 1980 he shot and killed the violent ex-husband of his wife, Nancy. White said the man had threatened both of them and molested his own stepdaughter. In 1981 White received his life sentence with no possibility of parole.

Resigned to that reality, he began community outreach programs, including a Vietnam veterans’ group while in San Quentin, one of several prisons where he spent time. At Ironwood, after reading a study about the recidivism rates for those who leave prison with a college degree, he convinced a warden to help him start the college program. At the time there was only one other program like it in the state, at San Quentin; now nearly every prison in California has adopted the format.

White also created a culture of charity in prison, convincing fellow inmates and guards to donate to local organizations. Over the years, he helped raise several hundred thousand dollars for everything from seeing-eye dogs for veterans to a local girls’ softball team, all through in-prison fundraisers like walkathons and pizza sales.

“I’ve been on this case since 1982, working with nonprofit legal groups and law students through the ’80s and ’90s, into the new century, working alongside veterans who served with him, all of us trying to get Jim released,” added Shad Meshad, founder and director of the Los Angeles-based National Veterans Organization. White “has long been a hero of mine for what he accomplished for others. This is just overwhelming for me.”

At breakfast with a group of friends that included three former inmates White had met inside prison (some of whom he hadn’t seen in 15 to 20 years) and this reporter, he commented on how heavy the silverware was — plastic sporks are used in prison — spoke on a cellphone and posed for selfies for the first time. Using the phrase “when I get out,” he immediately laughed and corrected himself.

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Their romance ended. Then the duo behind Lola Marsh became Israel’s biggest indie band.

Fri, 2020-01-24 18:19

(JTA) — Gil Landau and Yael Cohen, the two core members of Lola Marsh, don’t seem to care much about any of it — the pressure of being Israel’s biggest indie band, the baggage that comes with being labeled as Israeli occupiers in some of the places they perform, even the stress of collaborating together as ex-boyfriend and girlfriend.

Calling on separate phone lines from Tel Aviv, they sound genuinely relaxed, as if they just put down a thoughtful book after hours of reading. Gil calls his bandmate Yaeli, a small but cute sign of affection.

“We prefer to deal with the fun stuff,” Gil says. “If someone asks us about the not fun stuff, we just try to lead the conversation to the fun stuff.”

Despite the stories that swirl around them, the pair have certainly had their share of fun since they met at a party over six years ago. Yael had worked as a waitress, Gil as a guitar teacher. Each had played in several different groups — Yael dabbled in a girl band and a cover band, Gil played in a psychedelic rock outfit — but nothing really got them anywhere.

They instantly hit it off, personally and musically, and agreed to be serious about the Lola Marsh project from the start, meeting to write and rehearse almost every day. Taking inspiration from everything from old Western movie soundtracks to modern indie rock, they crafted an original style that blends folk rock, pop and sweeping orchestral sounds. Yael’s voice is often compared to the smooth, sultry tone of Lana Del Rey.

The duo quickly signed with an indie record label, then the giant Universal music group, releasing an EP and then an album, “Remember Roses,” in 2017. They’ve since played big festivals around the world, cultivating a diverse global following and piling up several million Spotify streams. Their second album, “Someday Tomorrow Maybe,” was released on Friday.

Gil Landau and Yael Cohen of Lola Marsh perform on stage at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Nov. 7, 2017. (Dimitri Hakke/Redferns/Getty Images)

Among other topics, the album deals with moving on from hard times — including from each other. After starting the band, Gil and Yael started to date, but it didn’t last.

Miraculously, they emerged from their relationship as even better friends, and Gil thinks their songwriting process got more comfortable as well. This time around, the two gathered every day for three months to sit in a room of instruments and experiment. It was a stark contrast to the way the first album was pieced together, from old ideas and songs written between busy bouts of touring.

Inevitably, strong feelings poured into the lyrics.

“Both of us I think overcame our breakup much before we started to write the next album, it was really just the inspiration: ‘We’ve been through it together.’ ‘Yeah you remember?’ ‘Yeah, let’s write about it,’” Gil said. “It was like friends who were under something together and could share their mutual feelings together.”

“Of course it was difficult… but how do you say it — we won. It’s a success [for] both of us,” Yael said. “As musicians we have the chance to share our feelings inside the songs, so it’s kind of like a medicine sometimes… some way to get closure.”

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The product of their efforts is like nothing else in Israel — or the U.S. and Europe for that matter. At times, the band sounds like it was plucked from several decades ago, probably because Yael and Gil both love old-fashioned crooners (Yael cites Israeli singer Eviatar Banai and France Gall as inspirations). They also have a fondness for old spaghetti western soundtracks. Gil balances that out by stating his fondness for contemporary acts like Sufjan Stevens, Childish Gambino and Tame Impala.

Yael says the music scene in Tel Aviv produces all those genres and more. But as she says they are viewed as indie in Israel because they sing in English, Gil stops her.

“I don’t like to use these words, whether it’s mainstream or pop or indie … I think we have our sound and we have our inspirations, some of them are from Israel, some of them from outside Israel, and we just try to do what we like to hear,” he says.

The fact that they’re Israeli — a rarity in the international indie scene — also doesn’t matter much to them.

“We don’t say, ‘Hey, we’re from here and you’re from there,’ and ‘We believe in this and that.’ … We really try to make it that we and the audience will come to the show, close our eyes and just feel something else for an hour and a half,” Gil says. “Not, ‘OK, I’m in Berlin, I’m in New York, I’m in Paris.’ No. You’re just in a show.”

Yael says they haven’t experienced any harassment in places they’ve performed in Europe that are hotbeds of anti-Israel sentiment.

“We always say we like to play in front of people, not in front of countries,” she adds.

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Summer tourrrr

A post shared by LOLA MARSH (@lolamarshband) on Jul 2, 2019 at 6:42am PDT

But there are some instances where the pair get to talk about their country in a positive way with fans, usually when they’re asked about what life is like in Tel Aviv, Gil says. He also fondly recalls a time when they met an Iranian band backstage at a festival and the two groups had a cordial conversation.

But normally, he tries not to think about what others might be thinking about his identity.

“I deal with the next show on tour,” he says.

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Ezra Schwartz, an American terror victim, loved baseball. Now there’s a field in Israel in his memory.

Fri, 2020-01-24 18:11

JERUSALEM (JTA) — American teen Ezra Schwartz will never play on the baseball field in Raanana that bears his name.

But hundreds of Israeli young people, including some of Ezra’s cousins, will have the chance. In doing so, they will be honoring the memory of a young man who was on his way to volunteer at a nature preserve when he was killed in a 2015 terrorist shooting in the West Bank.

Last week, Israeli teens and their parents, joined by Israel’s Olympic baseball team, which is preparing for the Tokyo games this summer, held a groundbreaking for what has been dubbed “A Field for Ezra.” Organizers hope the field, located in Raanana Park in central Israel and built with funds raised by the Schwartz family, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Baseball Association, will be ready for baseball activities by the fall.

In a message read at the ceremony, his father said Ezra was “a boy who loved baseball.”

“Nothing made Ezra happier than being on a baseball field. I can’t imagine Ezra’s life without baseball, and I can’t imagine growing up and not having a field to play on,” Ari Schwartz said in the message, which was read last week by the teen’s uncle, Yoav Schwartz of Raanana. “Now these boys and girls in Israel will have that.

“This field is a gift from Ezra to all the kids who will laugh and scream after a big win. This field is a gift so kids can pitch and catch and run and hit for many years to come. This field feels like Ezra is sharing his passion with all those kids who will create memories here that they will never forget.”

Ezra was studying for a year at Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh before he was on track to enroll in Rutgers University in New Jersey when he was killed. A Palestinian attacker shot into the minivan in which Ezra was riding through the Etzion bloc. Ezra, who lived in suburban Boston, was 18.

Ezra Schwartz (Twitter)

The park, which now bears a trail dedicated in the teen’s memory, had been established a year earlier in memory of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in June 2014 by Palestinians from a traffic junction in Gush Etzion and later killed by their captors. The area had been a neglected forest filled with garbage that was being converted into a nature reserve.

In addition to his love for baseball, Ezra was a devoted New England Patriots fan, and the NFL team honored him with a moment of silence just days after his murder – flashing a photo of him on video screens at Gillette Stadium wearing a team jersey. Team owner Robert Kraft, who is Jewish, paid a shiva visit to the family.

Ezra, his father said, loved being in Israel for the year before college, and he was excited about the growth in popularity of baseball there.

Hundreds of Israelis, mostly boys, play on Raanana baseball teams starting in the third grade. (There’s a girls’ softball league, too.) Raanana also has a professional team, the Express, in the Israel Association of Baseball. But the city has been without a field for several years, with condominiums being constructed on the site of the old field. The teams have been using one of IAB’s main fields in Petach Tikvah as their home.

Ari Schwartz in his message talked about the life lessons that both he and his son learned from baseball.

“Baseball taught him a lot. It taught him not only self-confidence and pride, but also how to fail and that it’s OK to fail,” the message said. “It taught him that hard work matters, that practice matters. It taught him to cheer for your teammates and listen to your coaches. He became a great teacher and passed on what he learned not only to his teammates and brothers but also to me. I became a better coach and better father by learning from Ezra.

“I may be a better coach because of Ezra and I may be a better father because of all the things I learned from Ezra, but I am a father in pain.”

Ari Schwartz called building the field a response to terrorism and a way to celebrate his son’s life. But then reality takes hold.

“This will not be a field of dreams like in the movies,” he said. “I will never be able to have a catch with my son again.”

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Israel’s Olympic baseball team preps for Tokyo and looks to expand the sport

Fri, 2020-01-24 17:57

MISGAV, Israel (JTA) – As more than 20 men wearing blue-and-white baseball uniforms walked along Tel Aviv’s bustling Allenby Street on a recent Tuesday, a motorcyclist called out in Hebrew and English.

“Good luck! We’re behind you!” the man shouted to the group, members of the baseball team that will represent Israel at next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.

The biker’s support “was meaningful to us,” said Jon Moscot, a pitcher. “It was authentic. He wanted to give us encouragement.”

Moscot recalled the scene two days later at a sports center here in the mountains east of Haifa, where the team was conducting baseball drills for nearly 200 children. It was one of several events organized during the club’s week-long visit to Israel meant to grow the sport in a country where baseball is barely known. With the Olympics just six months away, the team’s visit seemed to offer great public relations potential.

The delegation consisted primarily of American Jews who flew in from the United States after acquiring Israeli citizenship that enabled them to represent Israel in the Olympics. They included former major-league players like Moscot, Ty Kelly, Danny Valencia, Zack Weiss and Jeremy Bleich. Former big leaguers Josh Zeid and Ryan Lavarnway, who didn’t make the trip, also became citizens and are vying for roster spots.

The Olympics squad is Israel’s first-ever in baseball and only the fourth in any team sport — winter or summer. Israel hasn’t had a team make the cut since soccer at the 1976 Games in Montreal.

The team’s success in four European tournaments last summer catapulted it to the Olympics and is prompting loftier aspirations. Israel Association of Baseball president Peter Kurz told reporters in Tel Aviv at a press conference Jan. 13 that he’s aiming to earn a medal in Tokyo.

With just six teams competing, it’s not an unreasonable goal. But team manager Eric Holtz pledged only that his players would compete hard throughout.

“Every time this team gets on the field, it has a chance to do great things,” said Holtz, a New Yorker who managed the American juniors to gold at the 2017 Maccabiah games.

Kurz and Holtz expressed hope that the team’s Olympics debut spurs a doubling in the number of Israeli youth and adults playing baseball, from 1,000 to 2,000, over the next two years.

Accommodating such growth would necessitate building far more baseball fields than the three existing now: at Tel Aviv’s Sportek; at the Baptist Village complex in Petach Tikvah; and at Kibbutz Gezer, about midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This month’s delegation attended groundbreaking ceremonies for new fields in Raanana and Beit Shemesh.

No one harbors illusions about baseball upsetting the country’s sports order. Even Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, at a welcome he hosted for the team, said it’s “not a secret that I prefer soccer.”

Team Israel players shown during a game of the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Tokyo, March 13, 2017. (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

Still, the run-up to the Olympics provides key exposure for the sport. Gilad Lustig, director general of the Olympic Committee of Israel, said that the country will send 85 athletes to Tokyo — its largest-ever contingent.

“I have no doubt that this group will represent us well,” he said of the baseballers.

Infielder Zach Penprase said that compared to his first visit to Israel in April, Israelis have a heightened awareness of the baseball team. Some Israelis he met told him they had watched the European tournaments online.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Penprase, a Los Angeles-area resident. “It’s why we’re doing this.”

Moscot, a fellow Southern Californian what has visited the country three times as a team member, said he has noticed “more and more passion” for baseball among Israelis.

“These are the people who give us that extra push, that extra incentive, to do well for the country,” he said. “This is for sure a different trip, because the kids have Olympic athletes to look up to. It’s been very redeeming for us to see how passionate these kids are and how much potential there is in this.”

Moscot gestured toward the children gathering near his teammates to begin drills.

“You can see it in their eyes,” he said. “The parents want them to be here, and the kids want to be here. They genuinely want to learn.”

One such family included Yoav Nov-Kolodny, 11, and his brother Yoni, 8. The boys gravitated to baseball three years ago during a sabbatical in Boston with their father Yuval Nov, a statistician. Since returning to Israel, Yoav has taught the game to his friends using just a bat, two baseballs and three gloves he brought back from America.

His chums soon ordered their own equipment, expanding the circle’s ballplaying possibilities.

“We play three to five times a week. It’s so fun to play,” said Yoav.

Watching his sons take instruction from the soon-to-be Olympians, Nov recalled playing basketball and soccer on the same surface three decades ago while attending the adjacent high school. Nov knew nothing about baseball then – still doesn’t, he confessed – and said he would have considered the idea of Israel fielding a baseball team “far-fetched.”

Now, he said, “What else can you wish to bring your son to but [to meet] Olympic athletes if he’s into baseball?”

As to the boys’ desire to register to play on IAB teams, which would necessitate a one-hour, round-trip drive here from their home in Kiryat Tivon, Nov said, “I may have unintentionally released a genie.”

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Restorers find chest full of precious Judaica items in former Polish synagogue

Fri, 2020-01-24 17:04

(JTA) — Restorers working on a building that used to house a synagogue near Krakow, Poland, found a chest inside a wall containing precious silverware and Jewish artifacts.

More than 350 items were found about two months ago in Wieliczka, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper reported last week, including silver-plated candlesticks, large bronze vases with decorative handles and Hebrew inscriptions, and a silver goblet with a floral motif.

There were also at least two Hanukkah menorahs and two Torah ornaments, known as rimonim, that typically adorn the handles of the scroll. The scroll itself was not in the chest.

A team carrying out an assessment of the building’s condition chanced upon the chest during an examination of the foundation of the abandoned 18th-century synagogue, the paper reported.

It’s not known who concealed the chest, which is about the size of a large washing machine, but it was thoroughly concealed inside the building’s architecture, according to the report.

Jewish communities across Europe attempted to hide their treasures ahead of the Nazi advance during World War II. The chest in Wieliczka also contained decorations  of officers from the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Researchers from Jagiellonian University are cataloging the contents of the chest in an effort to learn more about who hid them.

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Swastikas painted on synagogue in New Zealand

Fri, 2020-01-24 17:01

(JTA) — Swastikas were found painted on and around a synagogue in Wellington, New Zealand.

One swastika was painted on Wednesday on the Temple Sinai synagogue and several others were found nearby, a Wellington City Council spokesperson told Newshub.

The word “Heil” was also painted nearby.

“I’m upset by it and outraged by it, that we are targeted like that – but at the same time I’m not entirely surprised,” Temple Sinai chair Matthew Smith told NZME.

The vandalism comes days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. On Thursday, Israel commemorated the event at a major conference in Jerusalem attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Trump: Peace plan may be revealed in coming days

Fri, 2020-01-24 16:56

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump said he may unveil his long-awaited plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace before a planned meeting next Tuesday in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz.

“Probably we’ll release it a little bit prior to that,” Trump told reporters traveling aboard his plane to Florida on Thursday, referring to the planned Tuesday meeting.

Vice President Mike Pence extended the invitation to meet with Trump at a meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday. Netanyahu has accepted the offer, but it’s not yet clear if Gantz will attend.

Israeli media reported that Gantz’s reluctance stemmed from a suspicion that Trump is planning to release the plan in order to assist Netanyahu ahead of March 2 elections and to distract from corruption charges the Israeli prime minister is facing.

The announcement of the Trump-Netanyahu-Gantz summit prompted questions among Washington pundits about the utility of releasing a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace with no Palestinians present.

Trump said he had been in touch with Palestinians “briefly.”

“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” he said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first but it’s actually very positive for them.”

Palestinians have boycottted peace talks since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, 2o17. Since then, Trump has cut virtually all aid to the Palestinians and has banned visits to the United States by some Palestinian leaders.

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You can’t defend haredi Orthodox Jews against violence while demonizing our schools

Fri, 2020-01-24 16:45

NEW YORK (JTA) — Relentless campaigns calling for curricula reform in the nation’s yeshivas. Misleading headlines about educational standards at Orthodox schools. Zoning efforts aimed at keeping large Jewish families out of suburban towns. Some see a direct link between such things and the anti-Semitic violence that has erupted on the streets of Brooklyn.

I don’t. 

But links can be indirect.

Groups that smear yeshivas, and suburbanites who assail observant Jews for daring to want to move into their towns, thicken an expanding cloud of hostility against Jews who wear their Jewishness openly. Denying that subtle but significant link should not be an option. 

Since 2012, an activist group called Young Advocates for Fair Education has accused a number of Hasidic yeshivas of neglecting secular studies and thereby handicapping their students, preventing them from becoming productive members of society. 

The group’s founder and executive director, Naftuli Moster, would himself seem to belie his claim. He has mounted a tremendously successful, if misleading, public relations campaign against those yeshivas, and convinced a wide assortment of media to parrot and embrace his claims — an impressive accomplishment for a graduate of what he insists is a school that didn’t prepare him for a career.

Moster insists that his only concern in championing state control and radical overhaul of all yeshivas and private schools in New York State is to ensure that Hasidic children will be able to make decent livings. But some observers, who note that he has characterized Orthodoxy as “absurd,” “crooked” and “nonsense,” feel that Moster may be motivated by the antipathy he harbors for the community in which he was raised.

He also claims that many Hasidic parents are overjoyed by his crusade but are too cowed by nefarious community leaders to register their chagrin. 

The truth emerged when New York State released proposed regulations calling for tight state oversight of private schools. YAFFED reportedly managed to amass 2,000 comments of support for the measure. Opponents, though — actual parents and grandparents of yeshiva students who went on record against the regulations — numbered more than 140,000. 

Still, the New York City Education Department investigated YAFFED’s charges. It did not locate the thousands of students reputed to be barely able to sign their names in English.

Of the 39 allegedly deadbeat yeshivas YAFFED had pointed to, only 28 were found to in fact be K-12 schools — the others served older students and were thus outside of the department’s purview. 

Two of those 28 were found to be fully providing the entire spectrum (12 distinct subject areas) of mandated secular studies; 21 were close to providing them or in the process of developing equivalency of instruction. A total of five yeshivas were found to be “underdeveloped.”

This means 82 percent of yeshivas reported as failing were meeting or close to meeting the DOE’s curriculum standards. Contrast this, if you will, with the 47 percent proficiency in English and 46 percent proficiency in math for students across New York City public schools. 

In the letter detailing the findings, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Richard A. Carranza noted that “The DOE recognizes and applauds the significant progress made as a result of the proactive steps many schools have taken.” 

Carranza also pointed out that a group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools “has developed and expanded… secular curriculum materials it has made available to yeshivas in mathematics, English Language Arts, and STEM.” He added, too, that “substantially equivalent instruction does not necessarily require that a school meet each and every item in the Education Law” and that “a strong argument has been made that Judaic Studies can be a powerful context in which to cultivate critical thinking and textual analysis skills.”

Then came the inflammatory headlines from national and Jewish outlets alike, which erroneously proclaimed that only two yeshivas provide basic secular education. 

Pivot, now, to upstate New York and northern New Jersey, where Orthodox Jewish families from Brooklyn have been migrating since the 1970s, seeking a less urban and more affordable place to live. 

A number of towns have enacted zoning changes forbidding new houses of worship.

In several communities in N.J., including Tom’s River and Jersey City, officials have pushed back against an influx of Jewish families by enacted so-called “no knock” ordinances, barring real estate agents representing the Hasidic community from offering to buy homes.

In the Orange County town of Chester, 60 miles north of New York City, housing rules were used to prevent an influx of Hasidic Jews. New York Attorney General Letitia James recently announced action to fight the rules. 

James has called the town’s actions “blatant anti-Semitism.” She warns that “some people find it easy to present Orthodox Jews as the source of all their problems. That’s just wrong.” 

Last year, a video produced by the Rockland County Republican Party began with dark clouds rolling in and ominous orchestral music swelling as large text flashes slowly across the screen warning that “a storm is brewing” and “if they win, we lose.”

The “they,” the production makes clear, are the Orthodox Jewish residents of the county’s villages and towns.  After an outcry, the video was removed. But its creation was telling. 

The previous year, Councilman Pete Bradley of Clarkstown, a Rockland County town, encouraged local residents to call or text him if they “suspect that non-residents are using our Town Parks.” Orthodox families from neighboring towns had apparently been bringing their children to play in Clarkstown’s parks. 

A few months earlier, Bradley criticized New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for visiting with Hasidic Jewish community leaders, contrasting them with what he called “normal Jews.”

In Jackson Township, New Jersey, Councilman Robert Nixon was accused of orchestrating the creation of several ordinances aimed at curbing the activities of Orthodox Jewish residents, of spying on Jewish residents and of coordinating his efforts with “Jackson Strong,” a group that has demonstrated deeply anti-Orthodox sentiment. After becoming the subject of two federal civil rights lawsuits, Nixon resigned. 

In the Ocean County town of Toms River, the town’s mayor once called the growing Orthodox presence “an invasion,” and residents posted unfriendly comments online, including one referring to the Orthodox Jews as “stinkin cockroaches.”

There is no direct line from seeking to undermine yeshivas and seeing Hasidic Jews as targets for physical violence. Stupid thugs don’t know a yeshiva from a yurt. 

And there is no direct line, either, between those who don’t want Jews moving into their towns and jerks who take pleasure in knocking off Jews’ hats or punching them. 

But people who promote the perception of Orthodox Jews as “the other” add to a nebulous but very real animus against such Jews.

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Fran Drescher doesn’t mind being single because she has a ‘friend with benefits’

Fri, 2020-01-24 16:40

(JTA) — Fran Drescher, the star of the 1990s sitcom “The Nanny,” says she loves her gay former husband, but some of her needs are met by a “friend with benefits.”

The twice-divorced Jewish actress spilt with Peter Marc Jacobson in 1999 after more than 20 years of marriage. Jacobson later came out as gay.

“I have my gay ex-husband who I love and he fulfills a lot of needs,” Drescher said in an interview published Thursday by the New York Post’s Page Six. “I have someone on the side who is a friend with benefits.”

Drescher, 57, who survived uterine cancer that made her unable to conceive, said she and her lover see each other about twice a month, which is “more than enough.”

“He comes over, we hang out and we do the hot tub and I make us some food and we lay in bed and maybe we’ll watch tennis together, whatever it is or a movie,” she said. “We talk, we have good conversations. “Of course we have sex and it’s delightful and it keeps me going.”

“It’s delightful and delicious but I’ve got a big life,” she said.

In 2014 Drescher married entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai but they parted in 2016.

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Diego Schwartzman writes about his family’s Holocaust history

Fri, 2020-01-24 16:33

(JTA) — Jewish Argentine tennis star Diego Schwartzman is currently rolling at the Australian Open. After beating Serbian Dušan Lajovi? in straight sets on Friday, he has made it into the round of 16 for the second time in his career. He has yet to drop a set in the entire tournament.

In the middle of the action, the ATP Tour website published an essay of his (as told to writer Andrew Eichenholz), that begins by talking about how his height — he’s listed at 5’7″, but many think he is shorter than that — doesn’t define him as an athlete.

“When I walk onto a tennis court, I don’t think about how tall I am or how much bigger my opponent is. I know there is a difference, but so what? Maybe if I was 10 or 15 centimetres [sic] taller, I’d have a better serve or be able to hit with more power. But my height isn’t going to change,” he writes.

But Schwartzman soon gets into discussing his family.

First he writes about the perseverance of his parents, who couldn’t really afford for him to play tennis — his mom would sell bracelets in between his matches to help fund their travels. As a kid, he viewed it as a game, but now he recognizes how difficult it was for his parents to support him.

“Whatever happens in my career doesn’t compare to what my parents endured,” Schwartzman writes.

And, “all of that pales in comparison to what my ancestors went through.”

His maternal great-grandfather, who was from Poland, was put on a train to a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Somehow, the coupling that connected the cars of the train he was on broke, and the car Schwartzman’s great-grandfather was in stayed behind. He ran for his life and escaped without being caught.

“My great grandfather brought his family by boat to Argentina. When they arrived, they spoke Yiddish and no Spanish. My father’s family was from Russia, and they also went to Argentina by boat. It wasn’t easy for all of them to totally change their lives after the war, but they did,” Schwartzman continued. “So from my ancestor escaping a train on its way to a concentration camp to staying in tiny hotel rooms and selling bracelets, I consider myself lucky.”

Now, Schwarzman, nicknamed “El Peque” (shorty), is one of the most prominent Argentine Jews.

“I am Jewish and in Argentina, we have many Jewish [people] there, and all the people there know me,” he said in 2017.

Next up for El Peque? He’s set to face defending Australian Open champ Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. Djokovic has won all three of their previous match-ups.

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New Jersey town with large Orthodox population gets first Orthodox cop

Fri, 2020-01-24 16:27

(JTA) — Lakewood Township in New Jersey is getting its first Orthodox Jewish police officer, local media reported.

Michael Wolf was sworn in Wednesday in a ceremony with 12 other new police officers following a year-long training, Asbury Park Press reported.

Lakewood Police Chief Greg Meyer said he hoped the hire would help strengthen community ties. Meyer announced during the ceremony the formation of a new unit specializing in homeland security and community outreach.

Lakewood is home to a large haredi Orthodox Jewish community and one of the biggest yeshivas in the United States. Several anti-Jewish hate crimes have been documented in the town in recent years.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal reported last week that bias incidents in the Garden State were up 65 percent in 2019 compared with the year prior.

“We hope that with this new unit we’re going to be able to get into more churches, houses of worship on the weekends and talk to people who might not necessarily feel at ease coming forward,” Meyer said.

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