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Israel escalates Gaza strikes in response to sniper fire that killed soldier

Fri, 2018-07-20 20:21

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, July 20, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

(JTA) — In the heaviest fighting between the two sides since the 2014 war, Israel hit Hamas targets across Gaza on Friday in response to sniper fire at its troops on the border that killed one soldier.

At around 6 p.m., amid Palestinian protests on the Gaza border, a sniper in Gaza shot at troops. One soldier succumbed from his severe injuries.

Moments ago, shots were fired at IDF troops from the Gaza Strip during the violent riots along the security fence. In response, IDF aircraft and tanks targeted military targets throughout the Gaza Strip. More details to follow

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2018

Today an IDF combat soldier was killed during operational activity near the southern Gaza Strip. A terrorist squad shot at IDF troops and the IDF soldier was severely injured. He later succumbed to his wounds. His family has been notified pic.twitter.com/V0ppoDyKZV

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2018

Israel responded with two rounds of heavy airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. The first killed four members of Hamas, the terror group that governs Gaza. The second barrage was heavier, striking a range of military targets, including 15 in a headquarters compound in northern Gaza with munitions stores, training sites and command posts, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli Air Force fighter jets are currently striking military targets throughout the Gaza Strip. So far, the IDF has struck 15 military targets located in a Hamas battalion headquarter in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF significantly damaged the headquarters capabilities

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2018

Tensions have been high since May, when more than 50 Palestinians died in clashes amid protests on the Gaza border. In the weeks since, a steady stream of arson attacks across the border have set fire to swaths of Israeli farmland. Gazans say they are protesting Israel’s blockade of the territory, as well as pushing for a return to their ancestors’ homes in Israel.

The last time Hamas and Israel fought, in 2014, the war lasted 50 days. More than 2,000 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis died in the fighting, which saw an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza and thousands of missile strikes at Israeli towns and cities.

The post Israel escalates Gaza strikes in response to sniper fire that killed soldier appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Why Israel detained a rabbi for performing a wedding — and why people are angry about it

Fri, 2018-07-20 18:49

Rabbi Dov Haiyun in Jerusalem, July 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

(JTA) — As he waited to be interrogated by the Israel Police for conducting a non-Orthodox wedding, Rabbi Dov Haiyun began a Facebook post with three words: “Iran is here.”

Haiyun awoke at 5:30 a.m. Thursday at his home in Haifa to a knock on the door from two police officers who detained him, put him in the back of a van and sought to question him. His crime? Conducting a Jewish wedding outside the auspices of Israel’s haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

The rabbi was released, sans questions, after a couple hours — he had to head to the Israeli president’s residence for an event celebrating Jewish pluralism.

Israel’s attorney general has since ordered police to stop investigating Haiyun, a Conservative rabbi in his northern city. But news of the incident, which has spread quickly across Israel and to Jews worldwide, has highlighted an obscure law threatening non-Orthodox rabbis with arrest. And it has ignited a wave of protest in Israel and abroad against the Orthodox monopoly over Jewish practice there.

“I feel disappointed in my state that this is what’s happening in my country,” Haiyun told JTA on Friday. “The only country that discriminates between Jews in the entire Western world is Israel. In the United States, I can perform weddings and they recognize me.

“The police don’t catch criminals this quickly,” he added later.

The law that landed Haiyun in a police van outlaws any traditional Jewish marriage performed outside the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, the state-sanctioned body dominated by haredi Orthodox rabbis that controls all recognized Jewish marriage, divorce, burial and conversion in Israel. Weddings performed in Israel outside its purview — including all Conservative and Reform marriages — are not recognized by the state.

According to the law, rabbis that perform any non-sanctioned weddings in Israel could also be subject to prosecution — so can the bride and groom. When the measure was passed in 2013, a Chief Rabbinate spokesman told JTA that non-Orthodox weddings would only run afoul of the law if they were performed using traditional Jewish rites. Haiyun uses a traditional Jewish ceremony in his weddings, so a religious court in Haifa invoked the law and ordered the police to interrogate him.

(Earlier reports that one of the partners in the marriage was a “mamzer” — an individual who was born out of a woman’s extramarital affair and whose ability to marry within Jewish law is highly restricted — appear to be inaccurate.)

Before this week, the law was never enforced. So though secular Israelis have long chafed at their inability to marry whomever they wanted or how they wanted, the law had not become a centerpiece of protests against the Chief Rabbinate. Campaigns have focused more on instituting civil marriage in Israel or on increased rights for LGBT Israelis.

Some Israelis have also protested the Chief Rabbinate by declining its wedding services. Israel does recognize any legal wedding ceremony performed abroad, so some Israelis are legally married in a nearby country — say, Cyprus — and then have an unrecognized ceremony in Israel. Some secular Israelis forgo marriage altogether and live in domestic partnership. That Israeli Jews have the right to marry however they want only outside their own country is a frequently noted irony.

A majority of Israelis are interested in weddings outside the Chief Rabbinate’s auspices, according to a 2017 poll by Hiddush, an Israeli organization that advocates for religious pluralism. Hiddush also reports that the number of Israelis registering for marriage with the Chief Rabbinate is dropping. Polls show that a large majority of Israelis oppose the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage.

Alternative weddings have become so widespread that Israel’s own Foreign Ministry posted a Facebook video last month advertising them. Against an upbeat soundtrack, the video claims ironically that if you get married in Israel, you can “make it your own style.”

But Haiyun’s experience shows that the wrong kind of Jewish practice can still lead to a morning in the police station. His detainment — and his Facebook post comparing it to Iran’s Islamic theocracy — has led to a street protest. Israelis have also begun an online campaign overlaying their Facebook photos with the message “I also got married outside the rabbinate.”

The incident has prompted vociferous protest from Jews outside Israel, including an angry statement signed by 14 Conservative Jewish groups. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group rarely given to criticizing Israel, issued a statement urging an investigation of Haiyun’s early morning detention (although without criticizing the law itself).

UJA-Federation of New York, the country’s largest and most powerful Jewish federation, called Haiyun’s detention “dramatically inconsistent with Israel’s promise as the home of the entire Jewish people.”

Even the American Federation of Teachers felt compelled to weigh in. The president of the union, Randi Weingarten, who is married to a rabbi, condemned Haiyun’s detention as one of a series of “anti-democratic and nativist actions” in Israel.

Weingarten’s statement also refers to other developments this week that together with the Haiyun incident were the heat, oxygen and fuel of a fiery argument between Israel’s right-wing government and the largely liberal Diaspora.

The day before, Israel’s Knesset passed the so-called Nation-State Law, which officially defines Israel as a Jewish state and has prompted fears in the Diaspora that disrespect for religious pluralism in Israel will be enshrined in law.

Also Wednesday, the Knesset passed a law denying same-sex male couples the right to have a child via a surrogate in Israel.

“I believe in Zionism and believe in its vision, and what concerns me is how far away from that vision the country, under its current government, is headed,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told JTA, though he did not explicitly refer to the laws passed Wednesday. “But governments don’t last forever.”

Haiyun says he isn’t worried that this will deter other couples from seeking non-Orthodox weddings. In the day-and-a-half since he was detained, he’s received a number of requests to perform weddings. He knows of other couples who have sent their names into local police stations confessing to their non-Chief Rabbinate weddings.

“I only benefited from this and the Conservative movement only benefited from the publicity,” he told JTA. “Finally, it’s time for the State of Israel to deal with this issue and solve it.”

The post Why Israel detained a rabbi for performing a wedding — and why people are angry about it appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mark Zuckerberg’s sister responds to his Holocaust comments

Fri, 2018-07-20 16:27

Randi Zuckerberg speaks at the closing plenary of the annual Jewish Funders Network conference in La Jolla, Calif., April 5, 2016. (JTA file photo)

(JTA) — Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, weighed in on his controversial comments about Holocaust deniers on the social media platform.

In a statement provided to CNN, Randi Zuckerberg, who previously served as director of marketing for Facebook and is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, denounced Holocaust deniers, citing “their hateful, disgusting rhetoric.”

She appeared to agree with her brother, however, adding that banning such people from social media “will not make them go away.”

Her comments came after her brother told Recode’s Kara Swisher that Facebook would not remove the posts of Holocaust deniers because they could include people who “aren’t intentionally getting it wrong.” He said Facebook would only make sure such posts would not get high visibility.

Critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, said a private company should draw the line at tolerating obvious falsehoods and hateful, unfounded conspiracy theories.

In her remarks to CNN, Randi Zuckerberg noted her longtime involvement in numerous Jewish organizations.

“As a leader in the Jewish community, and someone who has worked at the ground floor of social media, I felt a responsibility to weigh in,” she wrote.

She mentioned her involvement in Birthright Israel, PJ Library, Reboot, the Wexner Foundation, the Shalom Hartman Institute, San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum and “JCCs and Federations across the U.S. and Canada.”

Zuckerberg said her brother “could have chosen his words apparently.” She said, however, the difficulty of “navigating this incredibly difficult new world where the notion of free speech is constantly changing.” Citing the positive effect that Facebook has had on the Jewish community, she lamented that the platform has become a tool for detractors as well.

“Unfortunately, when we give a voice to everyone, we give it to people who use that voice for good and to people who abuse that voice,” she wrote. “Organizations doing impactful work now have more powerful tools than ever before, yet the nasty dark underbelly that exists right beneath the surface has access to those exact same tools.”

She suggested that a national debate was needed on Holocaust deniers’ right to a platform.

“As much as I disagree with Holocaust deniers having a voice at all, the reality is that it is not currently considered a crime in the United States, and if we want our social networks to remove this hateful speech and follow the lead of many countries in Europe who denounce it as criminal, we need to expand the conversation more broadly and legislate at a national level,” she wrote.

“I wish that these platforms didn’t give a voice to those who cry out for divestment from Israel, make anti-Jewish remarks, and many of the other issues affecting our community today. But silencing everyone — or worse, silencing selectively — would be far more nefarious.”

The post Mark Zuckerberg’s sister responds to his Holocaust comments appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Comedian Orny Adams talks about his Jewish background (just not on stage)

Fri, 2018-07-20 16:10

Orny Adams. shown near Jerusalem’s Old City, said he didn’t expect the abuse he got online for visiting Israel with his family. (Courtesy of Adams)

(JTA) — Despite a career of more than two decades kvetching incessantly about life’s absurd little annoyances, comedian and actor Orny Adams insists he’s an optimist who’s always been an early riser, eager to tackle anything that confronts him.

“When I wake up,” he says, “I find myself to be a very happy person, excited for the day. I love to forge ahead; I love a challenge.”

After a perfectly timed pause he adds, “And by 2 p.m., I just want to curl up and get into a fetal position.”

Adams truly believes “the world beats us down. Every. Single. Day.”

Born Adam Jason Orenstein, Adams concedes his worldview is shaped by being Jewish.

“We Jews find pain in everything!” he says with a laugh. “And we don’t forgive. You hear people of other religions say, ‘You murdered my kid, but I forgive you, that’s what God would want.’ Jews? We never forgive. We don’t even forgive a bad meal!”

Adams is currently sharing his insightful, rapid-fire observations at Montreal’s prestigious Just For Laughs festival, where he debuted as one of the “new faces of comedy” in 2000. On his 18th anniversary, he’s headlining the event’s popular “Ethnic Show,” which runs until July 26.

His comedy mentor was the late Garry Shandling, and Adams first came to national attention in the 2002 documentary “Comedian,” which contrasted superstar Jerry Seinfeld with the then-struggling younger comic. Seinfeld remains supportive of Adams’ career, which has since included appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show” and “Conan.” Younger audiences know him from his six seasons as Coach Finstock on the MTV series “Teen Wolf.” He’s done specials for Netflix and Comedy Central, and his 2017 special “More Than Loud” is airing on Showtime.

The “Ethnic Show” in Montreal features Maz Jobrani, an Iranian American; Gina Brillon, a Latina; Loyiso Gola, a black South African; and Matteo Lane, who is gay and Italian. Each is expected to poke fun at their “traditions, customs and cultures,” although Adams is more likely to do that in an interview than on stage.

For example, despite a recent trip to Israel, don’t expect to hear the comic’s thoughts on peace in the Middle East.

“I go completely the other way,” he says.

Adams jokes about the motor vehicle bureau, about fad diets, about the decreasing softness of Q-tips — the “small things that bother us every day,” he says. “And within 10 minutes, in a comedy club or theater, people start looking around and realizing we’re all laughing at the same things. We’re more similar than dissimilar.

“Some comedians try to divide the audience,” he says. “I go up there and use comedy to bring us closer together.”

Orny Adams is headlining the “Ethnic Show” at Montreal’s prestigious Just For Laughs Festival. (Courtesy of Just For Laughs)

The 47-year-old comic grew up with two sisters in Lexington, Massachusetts, in a Conservative Jewish home, attending Camp Tel Noar in nearby New Hampshire every summer. His father conducted market research and focus groups; his mother was a kindergarten teacher.

“We’re very close; we speak daily,” Adams says. “My sisters are married with kids, but even though I dated the most, I’m still single. I fell in love with comedy, and it takes a devotion and selfishness that I couldn’t and wouldn’t put somebody through.”

His parents still call him Adam (or “boychik”), but he decided to change his professional name early in his career.

“Orny was always my nickname, but also, I didn’t want an audience’s first impression of me to be ‘he’s Jewish,'” Adams says. “I’d rather they hate me for something else first, then hate me for being Jewish!”

Although he jokes about Jew-hatred, Adams felt it early in life.

“I grew up in a community with a lot of Irish Catholics around us,” he recalls. “From a young age, I would hear people say ‘You’re a cheap Jew.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m only 8 years old; I don’t even have any money yet!’”

Turning serious, Adams says, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more secure with being Jewish, and I couldn’t care less. I’m proud, and I have the tools to defeat that sort of in-your-face anti-Semitism.”

Adams was subjected recently to the newest iteration of online Jew-hatred when his family took their first trip to Israel. He has 370,000 followers on Instagram.

“I couldn’t even post a picture saying I’m on a beach in Israel without tons of posts from people writing ‘That’s not Israel; that’s occupied Palestine,'” he says. “I’m not political, nor am I smart enough to understand the politics and complexity of that region … but that was sad.”

The trip, however, was a lifelong dream come true for his dad and an eye opener for Adams.

“They were flying F-15s about 10 feet above my hotel,” he says. “The entire building was shaking. I live in Los Angeles with earthquakes and I never felt anything like this!”

The family took a guided tour along the Syrian border, just as the United States, Britain and France were attacking suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.

Adams relates the conversation with his guide:

“I asked, are we safe? He said, ‘Of course, this is Israel, safest place in the world!’ I said, ‘In America we don’t hear bombs like this. That feels safer to me!’ The guide said, ‘No, no, no. We’re safe. We eat falafel every day on the beach.’ They always change the subject!”

Adams was impressed with the Jewish state in various ways.

“Israelis have so much pride and love for their country, and they want you to love it. That is genuine,” he says. “It’s a much tougher culture, but I allow that. I don’t live under those conditions, and can’t imagine living in a place surrounded by other countries that would love to see them eliminated.”

He was pleasantly surprised even before arriving in Israel.

“When you announce you’re going there, 50 people on Facebook give you names of people you’ve never met who will drop everything to take you out for a night in Tel Aviv,” Adams says. “I think that’s amazing.”

As for his appearances in Montreal, Adams expects he will continue to craft and hone and tighten every joke he tells, as he’s always done.

“I even eliminate syllables in my bits; that’s how important the rhythm is to me,” he says.

 Will he have time to grab a bite at Schwartz’s Deli, the city’s legendary cathedral of smoked meat?

“I don’t think so,” he says with a smile. “You eat a sandwich at Schwartz’s, it’s so salty you can’t talk on stage for three nights.”

The post Comedian Orny Adams talks about his Jewish background (just not on stage) appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Hundreds in Georgia mourn Jewish soldier killed in Afghanistan

Fri, 2018-07-20 15:20

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz was killed in action July 12 in Paktiya province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Department of Defense)

(JTA) — Hundreds of mourners filled a Savannah, Georgia, synagogue to remember a Jewish soldier killed in action in Afghanistan on July 12.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Andrew Celiz, 32, an Army Ranger and native of Summerville, Georgia, was wounded by enemy small-arms fire while helping to support a medical evacuation landing zone during a counterterrorism operation, Army officials said. He died at a medical treatment facility.

His funeral took place Wednesday afternoon at Congregation Mickve Israel in historic Savannah, the Post and Courier reported. Flags were lowered at half-staff throughout the state in his honor.

Friends from Summerville High School and The Citadel remembered him as “smart, caring and upbeat,” the paper reported.

“I’ve never seen a man love his wife and his child as much as he loved them,” a friend said. Celiz and his wife, Katie, began dating in high school.

The Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance and Savannah Jewish Federation mourned Celiz in a statement on Facebook.

“A husband, father, and leader, Chris was known as a man who ‘led from the front’; He was the first one in, worried about the welfare of his troops,” they wrote. “He died as he lived … as a hero.”

Celiz and his wife were contributors to the federation campaign.

Celiz deployed from 2008 to 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and from 2011 to 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the U.S. Defense Department. He was on his fifth deployment when he was killed.

Celiz was posthumously awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

The post Hundreds in Georgia mourn Jewish soldier killed in Afghanistan appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Tisha b’Av is just another day for over half of Israelis

Fri, 2018-07-20 15:12

Jews pray on Tisha b’Av at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, August 2015. (Shlomi Kakon/Wikimedia Commons)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Tisha b’Av fast marking the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem is just another day for over half of Israeli Jews, according to a new study.

Meanwhile, the 200,000 Jews who report visiting the Western Wall during the day of mourning are almost exclusively religious ones from the national-religious and haredi Orthodox camps, according to the survey by the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute. That’s 4 percent of Israeli Jews.

The number of secular Jews who visit the holy site on that day “approaches zero,” according to the study.

Camil Fuchs, who conducted the study, further reported that “those who think of Tisha b’Av as a national day of mourning may change their minds when they compare the data about Tisha b’Av with those of other national days of mourning.”

According to the report, more than half of Israelis see Tisha b’Av as just another day on the calendar. This stands in stark contrast to other national days of mourning like Yom Hashoah or Yom Hazikaron, where “only a small percentage of Jews (9 percent and 5 percent respectively, most of them haredi) claim they are just regular days.”

Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, were instituted after the founding of Israel. Tisha b’Av is a solemn day on the traditional Jewish calendar marking the fall of the Temples and other historical tragedies. It begins this year at sundown Saturday.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem braces the Temple Mount where the last Temple stood before its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E.

Although far fewer people fast on Tisha b’Av than on Yom Kippur, a day on which fasting is relatively widespread, more than a third of Israelis reported abstaining from food. A further 6 percent fast for only part of the day and 2 percent avoid food but continue drinking.

According to the Forward, a political battle has been brewing in Tel Aviv between a former city councilman pushing for restaurants to remain closed on Tisha b’Av and a current member of the council encouraging their owners to post stickers in their windows declaring that they will remain open on the fast. Israeli religious freedom campaigners have expressed skepticism regarding the fight.

“There’s not a big ideology behind it,” Mickey Gitzen, executive director of the New Israel Fund, told the Forward. “It provides a lot of attention. It’s very extreme … I oppose both of them. There is no need for both actions. It’s a big ado about nothing. There are many other good reasons to fight, but this is not an issue.”

The post Tisha b’Av is just another day for over half of Israelis appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

How the cast of a new ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ production learned Yiddish in only a month

Fri, 2018-07-20 15:03

Steven Skybell, center, as Tevye and ensemble in the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Victor Nechay/ProperPix)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s new production of “Fiddler on the Roof” enacts a familiar story in an unfamiliar language. The actors sing about joy and hardship, and argue about the importance of tradition, in the language their characters would have spoken in the Old Country.

But before rehearsals started in June, the majority of them had no experience with the language. Of the 26 cast members, only three spoke Yiddish fluently. Another nine had some experience with the mama loshen, but everyone had just a month to memorize the entire script.

The result is extraordinary, giving audience members a new experience and new understanding of one of Broadway’s best-loved musicals. (For those who don’t speak Yiddish, there are supertitles in English and Russian.)

This production of “Fiddler on the Roof” — or “Fidler Afn Dakh” — marks the first time the musical is being performed in Yiddish in the United States, and only the second time in its history (a Yiddish version ran for about four weeks in Israel in 1965), according to the New York-based theater company.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” which premiered in 1964, is based on “Tevye and His Daughters,” a series of stories by the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. Created by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein, the musical tells the story of a poor dairy farmer living in the Russian town of Anatevka at the start of the 20th century as he grapples with tradition and the ways his daughters choose to defy it.

From left to right, Raquel Nobile, Rosie Jo Neddy, Rachel Zatcoff, Stephanie Lynne Mason and Samantha Hahn play the daughters in the Folksbiene’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Victor Nechay/ProperPix)

As part of the auditions for Folksbiene’s production, actors had to prove that they would be able to learn Yiddish quickly. Those called in for auditions were given 24 hours to memorize a recording of a song in the language. From the 2,500 applications, 26 actors were chosen for the production.

Once the cast was chosen, each member received a recording of his or her lines and songs in Yiddish in addition to private language coaching.

“It was very tedious, and it continues every day,” Zalmen Mlotek, Folksbiene’s artistic director, told JTA. “We give little notes here and there because while they know what they’re saying, of course sometimes the accent isn’t quite right.”

Members of the cast include Emmy Award nominee Jackie Hoffman playing the matchmaker Yente and Broadway actors Steven Skybell as the long-suffering Tevye and Mary Illes as his wife, Golde. Award-winning director and actor Joel Grey directs the production, which runs through Sept. 2 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan.

The team used a translation by Shraga Friedman, the actor and director who translated the script for and co-directed the Israeli production. Performing the show in Yiddish hearkens back to Sholem Aleichem’s original stories, said Folksbiene CEO Christopher Massimine. But it does much more.

Perhaps the biggest difference, according to Massimine, is that the word “tradition” has been replaced by “Torah.” Though a Yiddish word for tradition is used in the iconic song “Tradition,” Torah is used elsewhere. That raises the stakes for characters like Tevye, for whom Torah is not mere custom but represents the ultimate authority: God’s law.

“A tradition can start one way and end up another way,” Massimine told JTA. “You can argue with the tradition because it’s not something that is set in stone — but law is.”

Folksbiene, the world’s oldest continuously operating Yiddish theater, was able to acquire Friedman’s director’s notes, which helped shed light on his translation and how the changes sometimes shift the play’s meaning.

Kirk Geritano, left, and Jackie Hoffman in a scene from the Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Victor Nechay/ProperPix)

One such instance is at the end of the play, when the Russian government orders Jews to leave Anatevka. While Tevye, his wife and two of his daughters head to America, another daughter, Tsaytl, and her husband say they are leaving not for Poland, as in the original production, but specifically the city of Warsaw.

To a modern audience the mention of the city, which was home to the largest Jewish ghetto in Europe during World War II, is likely to bring memories of the Holocaust.

“That being said in Yiddish, it brings it all full circle,” Massimine said.

Friedman made other choices to preserve the rhyme scheme: “If I Were a Rich Man” becomes “Ven Ikh Bin a Rothschild” (If I were a Rothschild), which is also the name of another story by Sholem Aleichem.

With a $750,000 budget, the show is Folksbiene’s largest and most expensive production. Massimine says the show has already earned back its production costs in ticket sales.

Regarding the supertitles, Mlotek said, “We have a significant amount of Russian-speaking Jews whose English isn’t the best, so there’s a population that we wanted to serve.” He said he wanted to add additional languages but the technology did not allow for it.

In addition to showing Tevye and his family speaking in what would have been their historic language, the production makes a point about Yiddish and its state today.

“It’s also a portrait of the initial decline of Yiddish and why that happened,” Mlotek said, “and why it’s important that we treasure this language and this culture.”

The post How the cast of a new ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ production learned Yiddish in only a month appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Germany blasts Mark Zuckerberg on Holocaust denial

Fri, 2018-07-20 13:04

Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, March 2, 2015. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Berlin issued a withering critique of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he would not remove Holocaust denial posts from the widely used social platform, stating that such a policy was contrary to German law.

“There must be no place for anti-Semitism. This includes verbal and physical attacks on Jews as well as the denial of the Holocaust,” said Justice Minister Katarina Barley. “The latter is also punishable by us and will be strictly prosecuted.”

In a statement to Politico Europe, a justice ministry spokeswoman said that what the Jewish tech entrepreneur “wishes or demands for the American or international market is not possible in Germany” where Nazi symbols and Holocaust denial have been prohibited for decades. Social media companies operating in Germany are required by law to remove content violating the ban.

Zuckerberg ignited a firestorm earlier this week when he told Recode, an American technology news website, that Facebook prioritizes allowing people to express themselves — even if they “get things wrong.”

“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he told the interviewer, Kara Swisher. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

Zuckerberg said that instead of banning such items the company would make sure they were not presented prominently in the News Feed, the posts that are seen most frequently by individual users.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt challenged Zuckerberg, stating that Holocaust denial is “a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews. Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination.”

Greenblatt added that his organization would “continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines.”

The post Germany blasts Mark Zuckerberg on Holocaust denial appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Pregnant Israelis get to skip to the front of the line

Fri, 2018-07-20 12:48

Israeli shoppers will have to make way for pregnant women thanks to a law passed in the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Courtesy Rami Levy)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An amendment to Israel’s Women’s Equal Rights Act passed this week will allow pregnant women to skip to the head of lines at “supermarkets, shops, pharmacies, the post office and other places that provide public service.”

The bill, which was proposed by Joint List parliamentarian Yousef Jabareen, was passed unanimously on Monday.

“The idea for the bill proposal came when I was abroad with my wife who was pregnant,” Jabareen was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying during a Knesset debate. “And when we saw the long lines in public places, we thought of giving up on those places. But we were pleasantly surprised when the service providers told us that we did not have to stand in line. When we came back to Israel we noticed the differences. It is time to give pregnant women the respect they deserve.”

The bill came just over a year after the Knesset passed a similar law granting citizens over 80 the same privilege.

“In order to give pregnant women the respect they deserve and to make life easier for them,” the amendment reads, she “will be granted the right to receive public service without waiting in line.”

The post Pregnant Israelis get to skip to the front of the line appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Stalin killed more Ukrainians than Hitler killed Jews, says congressman

Fri, 2018-07-20 12:08

(JTA) — An American lawmaker appeared to minimize the Holocaust this week, comparing it to a man-made famine that decimated Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s.

Speaking at a conference organized by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) stated that “Stalin killed more people in Ukraine than Hitler killed Jews in World War II. They basically worked them to death for the bread and the food that they made in Ukraine.”

Known as the Holodomor, the massive famine which lasted from 1932-33 was brought on by Stalinist collectivization policies. During the famine, Moscow insisted on increasing production quotas and confiscating seed grain while peasants starved.

While it affected citizens across the the Soviet Union, Ukraine was hit especially hard. While millions starved to death, the exact tally of victims has been a matter of dispute. Some scholars, such as Ukrainian-Canadian historian John-Paul Himka, have placed the number at around four million while Ukrainian nationalists claim more than twice as many.

This nationalist historiography began to take off in Ukraine during the early 2000s when then-President Viktor Yushchenko began a campaign of public commemoration, claiming that the famine had been a “genocide that had wiped out more than 10,000,000 victims.”

Speaking at a memorial ceremony last year, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed that 7 to 10 million Ukrainians had died and asserted that “not recognizing the Holodomor is as immoral as denying the Holocaust.”

Nationalist discourse related to the Holodomor is often combined with anti-Semitic sentiments in what some critics have described as a competition for victimhood. In 2009, Ukraine’s security service released a document naming those who it alleged to have been responsible for the Holodomor. Most of the names on the list were Jewish.

 

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<p>(JTA) &#8212; An Austrian man of

Fri, 2018-07-20 11:00

(JTA) — An Austrian man of Turkish descent assaulted three Jewish men and a woman in a part of Vienna where many Jews live and work.

The incident occurred shortly before noon Thursday on Vienna’s Tabor Street in front of kosher restaurant.

The perpetrator, a 24-year-old unemployed Austrian with Turkish roots, was identified only as Burkay S.

He allegedly attacked three men in front of a Jewish restaurant. All three wore a kippah and one wore Hebrew inscriptions on his clothes.

The suspect was arrested at a nearby subway station. None of the men he allegedly beat suffered serious injuries. Before assaulting the Jewish men, he also hit a woman on the street.

Police are looking into the possibility that the attack was anti-Semitic, the Oe24 news site reported.

Auatrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also said on Twitter that ” a possible antisemitic background is currently being examined by the competent authorities.” He thanked police for apprehending the suspect.

Austria had more than 500 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 a near doubling from 2014.

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One Palestinian killed as Israel and Gazans trade strikes

Thu, 2018-07-19 20:42

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and Gaza Palestinians traded attacks on Thursday, with a 22-year-old Palestinian man reported to be killed in a retaliatory strike by Israel.

In the latest salvo, a rocket fired from Gaza at southern Israel in the afternoon set off alerts that sent thousands of border area residents running to protected areas. The rocket landed next to a cowshed in the Eshkol Regional Council.

The Israel Defense Forces responded by firing tank shells at a Hamas observation point in southern Gaza.

The rocket was fired from Gaza more than an hour after an Israeli airstrike on a group of Palestinians launching arson balloons into Israel. That strike killed the man and injured three others, one critically, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported, citing the European Hospital in Rafah.

Following the airstrike, two mortar shells were fired from Gaza at Israeli soldiers guarding the border fence.

At least 14 fires were started Thursday by the balloons carrying incendiary material, Ynet reported.

Sirens sounded in the Eshkol Regional Council. More details to follow. pic.twitter.com/3hIAlj2N5T

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 19, 2018

 

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For Teen Vogue, bashing Israel has become the fashion

Thu, 2018-07-19 20:21

A column in Teen Vogue unflatteringly compares policing of minority communities in the United States and Israel. (Lily Hong/Flickr)

(JTA) – Once a must-read for young fashonistas, Teen Vogue in 2016 expanded its coverage, shifting the magazine more aggressively into “covering politics, feminism, identity and activism” from an apparently liberal lens.

Now, among articles on makeup, celebrities and clothing trends, Teen Vogue would like to give Israel a progressive makeover.

The July 16 “Do Better” column by Lincoln Anthony Blades, who writes on race, culture and society, compares the policing of minority communities in the United States and Israel, and not in a flattering way.

“The recent history of police violence enacted on unarmed black and brown citizens by American law enforcement mirrors the recent history of Israel treating Palestinians as violent insurgents,” Blades wrote. “American law enforcement and Israeli military and law enforcement share more than similar modes of policing; they share responsibility for what many perceive are numerous human rights abuses and civil rights violations.”

Blades went on to say: “Until both nations make serious efforts to improve their policing practices, more civilians will die.”

Conflating the security and policing situations of the two countries — and sometimes blaming Israel for aggressive policing by American law enforcement who have attended counterterrorism seminars in Israel — has become a common trope on the left. So have comparisons of social justice protesters here and Palestinian protesters in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It’s the comparison made by upstart New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in an interview with Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept  likened Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as they tried to breach the Gaza border fence with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri Black Lives Matter protests or the West Virginia teacher strikes.

The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups have long rejected the comparison, saying Palestinian protesters often use violence, and the Gaza protests in particular were orchestrated by Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the strip and has pledged Israel’s destruction.

In his piece, Blades notes that American police have taken part in the counterterrorism training in Israel. But neither Blades nor others who have invoked the training have provided evidence that such such training has influenced how U.S. police deal with minorities. The ADL, which hosts many of the counterterrorism programs, points out that it is one of the nation’s leaders in offering training about implicit bias and diversity in law enforcement.

Far-left groups are fans of Teen Vogue’s approach on Israel. Jewish Voice for Peace and Code Pink, which both support a boycott of Israel, tweeted favorably about the Blades article.

Among the critics, however, is Emily Shire, a writer who identifies as both a feminist and a Zionist. She tweeted about the Blades article, saying Teen Vogue is “shilling what seems ‘woke’ without nuance; here, it’s peddling conspiracy theories about Israel, but many topics get this treatment. It validates my worries about what’s currently the loudest version of feminism.”

In February, Karen Bekker of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America wrote an article titled “Intersectionality is making Teen Vogue’s editors stupid” saying that the magazine is “pushing a one-sided Palestinians narrative to its teen readers.”

“It’s clear from reading their coverage that Teen Vogue’s editors and writers know very little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the many complex issues involved,” Bekker wrote. “In discussing the topic in December of 2016, the magazine relied on far-left, anti-Israel academic Stephen Zunes, who has elsewhere – absurdly – called the First Intifada ‘non-violent’ and who falsely told Teen Vogue’s readers that there are ‘Jewish-only highways.’”

That article apparently referred to a road near the West Bank settlement of Efrat, which has been closed to Palestinian cars and pedestrians since a May 2001 terrorist killing of two Jewish women.

“Despite employing writers with no expertise in the area, the magazine has determinedly pursued an anti-Israel agenda,” Bekker said.

Other Teen Vogue articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — they include “A Letter to Gigi Hadid from Palestinian Youth”; “I Am a Jewish Teen and I Support the Palestinian Cause”; and “At Cannes, Attendees Are Raising Awareness About Palestinian Protester Deaths”– also reflect a left-wing commitment to “intersectionality,” which links support for marginalized groups like women, African-Americans and the LGBTQ community to the Palestinian cause.

KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, former Fulbright instructor at Tel Aviv University and regular Washington Post contributor, said intersectionality ignores Israel’s relatively tolerant record on those issues.

“There’s a lot of evidence that defining liberalism through an intersectional lens has had the effect of casting Israel as an ‘oppressor’ and thus a nation worthy of condemnation,” Johnson told JTA earlier this month, “even as its actual policies on issues associated with intersectionality are infinitely better than those of its neighbors.”

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For families of Jews with disabilities, Shabbaton retreats provide respite and support

Thu, 2018-07-19 20:02

The Shabbatons organized by Yachad offer fun activities for those with disabilities and their siblings, and educational workshops and networking opportunities for parents. (Yachad)

This story is sponsored by the Orthodox Union.

Shmuel and Rivka have a 3-year-old son, Moshe, with Down syndrome. As Hasidim who live in Borough Park, Brooklyn, they have struggled with how to explain their child’s special needs to others in their community.

When an opportunity came up to attend a weekend retreat for Jewish families with family members who have disabilities, they weren’t sure what to expect and were nervous about going.

“But once we arrived, we met many other parents and quickly became good friends,” said Shmuel, who asked that his last name be withheld for privacy. “We needed a change of scenery with our family from the daily stresses of caring for Moshe. And we realized that every family we met had their own unique challenges — some more than others — and we could all gain from each other’s approach and ideas.”

The retreat, held in Stamford, Connecticut, was organized by Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, which operates under the auspices of the Orthodox Union. Held throughout the year in regions across the country, the Yachad weekends, or Shabbatons, are meant to provide relief, camaraderie and support for families who have children with disabilities.

There were educational workshops and networking opportunities for parents at the Connecticut retreat, including sessions focused on everything from developing resilience to spotting “triggers” for special-needs children to tips about getting government and financial support.

Simultaneously, individuals with special needs and their siblings participated in activities like ice breakers and team-building games. The 1,000-plus participants came from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox backgrounds. Everybody came together for meals, prayer services, a Saturday night music concert and a Sunday morning bubble show.

“The purpose of Yachad is to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and their families, in all the different aspects of Jewish life,” said Rabbi Ahron Rosenthal, Yachad’s New York director.

“At the Shabbatons, professionals talk to parents about care and support of the child with special needs and how to manage those needs. There is a great need for such programs.”

Shmuel said he was particularly gratified to see his other children discover the world of inclusion.

“My other children saw that there’s a whole world out there for children with special needs,” he said. “We got such ‘chizuk’ [strength] and appreciation for our lot in life on this Shabbaton from the lectures and, even more so, from other parents we schmoozed with.”

Yachad — Hebrew for inclusion or togetherness — began about 30 years ago, when the Orthodox Union realized there was a dire need for programs for Jewish children with special needs and their families.

“When Yachad started it was truly revolutionary,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, Yachad’s international director and a psychologist. “People were not aware of Jews with disabilities. They were often sent to programs far away and were not included in communal life – in shuls, schools, businesses. There was very little interaction.”

The social recreational programs with which Yachad launched remain core to its mission. From the outset, those programs sought to include both special-needs individuals and their mainstream peers. Today the organization runs everything from summer camps to employment programs for adults with disabilities.

It also educates and trains synagogue and youth leaders about inclusion. The Connecticut retreat included a leadership program for some 30 able-bodied eighth-graders nominated by their schools to receive leadership training and hands-on opportunities to engage with individuals with disabilities.

Saadya Ehrenpreis, a 34-year-old with Down syndrome, has been to many Yachad Shabbatons and activities, including vocational training and summer camps. But until three years ago, his mother had never joined him at a retreat for families. Ahava Ehrenpreis was concerned that it would be too overwhelming for her.

But she finally gave in, and found the weekend helpful and enjoyable. To date, she has gone on three retreats.

“It’s a warm, very relaxed, upbeat atmosphere,” Ahava said. “It’s also been very lovely to meet and give faces to the Yachad staff, who I usually see only as email addresses. The mentors are enthusiastic, caring young people whose joy and affection for the Yachad members is palpable. What parent does not want to see that up close and personal?”

She credited a Shabbaton last year with transforming Saadya’s life because she learned of a new program for adults with special needs that was opening at Yeshiva University. Saadya ended up enrolling in the program, called the Makor College Experience, which provides opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities to experience college life, explore interests and develop skills as they transition into independence.

One of the greatest challenges for individuals who have disabilities is attaining jobs as adults, according to Lichtman. The problem isn’t so much limitations to their abilities, he said, as it is employers who can’t see beyond their disabilities.

“Too often people with disabilities are rejected because employers think they can’t do something or they won’t,” Lichtman said. “But more often than not they can and they will, if given the chance.”

Individuals in Yachad’s vocational program start by getting a work placement according to their skills and interests. An onsite job coach helps them acclimate to the environment and the work. Participants gradually progress to the point where they no longer need the job coach.

“A common thread with them is that they are so dependable,” said Hillel Tuchman, who has employed three Yachad-affiliated individuals at the Atlantic Freight Brokers Corp. in Brooklyn. “Once they are set up there is rarely an issue. I know if we give them something to do they will get it done.”

(This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, dedicated to engaging and strengthening the Jewish community, and to serving as the voice of Orthodox Judaism in North America. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.)

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Several women accuse leading Jewish sociologist of sexual misconduct

Thu, 2018-07-19 19:37

Steven M. Cohen is research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University. (Forward)

(JTA) — The leading Reform Jewish seminary has opened a Title IX investigation against Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.

The allegations, published Thursday in a wide-ranging investigative article by The New York Jewish Week, span decades and come from women who have worked with Cohen or associated professionally with him. They include inappropriate touching and grabbing, sexual propositions and advances, and inappropriate sexual remarks.

Five women in the article said Cohen sexually harassed them, while three others accused him of other kinds of sexual misconduct.

Cohen is research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, an electronic database, at Stanford University. He did not deny the allegations and apologized for them in a statement to The Jewish Week.

“I recognize that there is a pattern here,” the statement said, in part. “It’s one that speaks to my inappropriate behavior for which I take full responsibility. I am deeply apologetic to the women whom I have hurt by my words or my actions.”

Cohen, 68, said he has undergone a process of “education, recognition, remorse and repair” in consultation with clergy, therapists and professional experts.

One of the women named in the article is Keren McGinity, a professor at Brandeis University. She wrote a column last month in The Jewish Week detailing assault by an American Jewish academic she didn’t name, but whom she reveals to be Cohen in this week’s article.

“I firmly said ‘good night,’ told him that he did not have to walk me back to my room, and turned to walk away when he suddenly wrapped his arms around me, pressed his body against mine, and forcefully kissed my neck in a way that only lovers should,” McGinity wrote.

Accusers described incidents going back to the 1980s and as recently, in McGinity’s case, to 2011. Seven of the eight women interviewed noted that Cohen was “in a position of professional power and superiority when the respective incidents took place,” The Jewish Week reported.

Cohen is perhaps the most prominent American Jewish sociologist, and has conducted studies for a broad spectrum of Jewish organizations, from Jewish federations to Hillel International and the JCC Association of North America. He was a consultant on the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jews. His analyses and columns have been published widely across Jewish publications, including by JTA.

The Jewish Week reported that Hebrew Union College has launched a Title IX investigation of Cohen’s behavior.

According to the newspaper, Cohen was removed from a June 25 appearance at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies summer program at Brandeis and an upcoming appearance at the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference.

 

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Aly Raisman speaks at ESPYs on behalf of 140 abuse victims

Thu, 2018-07-19 19:30

(JTA) — Gold medalist Aly Raisman was among the 140 survivors of sexual abuse by former U.S. Olympics gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar who stood together on stage at the ESPY awards to receive the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

“For too long we were ignored. It could have been avoided,” Raisman told the crowd Wednesday night at the ceremony in Los Angeles. “All we needed was one adult to have the integrity to stand between us and Larry Nassar.”

The Jewish athlete went to say, to extended applause: “Too often abusers and enablers perpetuate suffering … to all the survivors out there, don’t let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter and you are not alone.”

The women, dressed in evening gowns, stood together on three stages, many holding each other for support.

“To all the survivors out there, don't let anyone rewrite your story. Your truth does matter. You matter. And you are not alone.”

Tonight, Aly Raisman and her sister survivors brought the #ESPYS audience to their feet. pic.twitter.com/0sVTI0wLUH

— ESPYS (@ESPYS) July 19, 2018

 

Raisman was one of three victims who spoke about their experiences at the nationally televised ceremony.

The ESPYs recognize individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance. They are presented by the ABC television network, and prior to 2017 by ESPN.

Raisman, the winner of numerous Olympic medals, including several golds, in March sued the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics alleging negligence for not stopping Nassar from sexually abusing young athletes. Nassar was sentenced earlier this year to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting over 150 women and girls over two decades. Many of the victims, including Raisman, spoke at his sentencing.

The ESPYs also posthumously awarded Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon with the best coach award. The men were all killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead.

Beigel, 35, who was Jewish, was a geography teacher and cross country coach at the school who saved students’ lives by opening his classroom door and ushering in the students. He was shot while closing the door behind them.

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LGBT community in uproar after Knesset passes surrogacy law that excludes single men and gay couples

Thu, 2018-07-19 19:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset passed a surrogacy law that expands those eligible to include single women, but excludes single men and gay couples.

The legislation passed Wednesday night by a vote of 59 to 52.

Following the vote, hundreds of demonstrators blocked streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. LGBTQ groups called for a nationwide general strike on Sunday to protest the exclusion of same-sex couples in the legislation. Many medium and large Israeli companies, and at least one public hospital, said they will allow their workers to participate in the strike.

The local divisions of several international companies, including Microsoft and Apple, announced they would support financially any employees who want to start a family though surrogacy.

Before the vote on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed course on the legislation. Prior to the vote he had said on Facebook that denying surrogacy rights to single men “simply isn’t fair. It needs to be corrected.”

Nevertheless, he voted against a proposed amendment that would have extended access to surrogacy to single men, despite saying he would vote for it.

Netanyahu said following the vote: “Today we voted in favor of a law for mothers. I told MK Ohana ahead of time that I would not support his current amendment because it would topple the law and then mothers would not have access to surrogacy.” Haredi Orthodox political parties had threatened to topple the government if the law did not exclude single men and gay couples.

Knesset member Amir Ohana is the first openly gay man from Netanyahu’s Likud Party to serve in the legislature

Under the new law, a family may have five children by surrogacy instead of the two now allowed, and a surrogate can give birth five times, including her own children, and up to age 39.

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In Israel, Hungary’s Orban gets praise from Netanyahu and protests at Yad Vashem

Thu, 2018-07-19 17:47

Prime Ministers Viktor Orban, left, of Hungary and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel meet in Jerusalem, July 19, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/Israeli Government Press Office)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, for defending Israel in international forums and for being a “good friend” to his country.

Netanyahu made his remarks before the leaders met Thursday in Jerusalem on the second day of Orban’s two-day visit. Netanyahu went to Hungary a year ago.

Meanwhile, later in the day, dozens of protesters prevented Orban’s car from moving for several minutes following a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum. The protesters held signs reading “Never again” in Hungarian and Hebrew and shouted “Shame on you,” The Times of Israel reported.

Netanyahu has been criticized for hosting Orban, an authoritarian who heads the far-right Fidesz party, with some citing his campaign against the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros that many consider obliquely anti-Semitic.

Orban also angered Jews both in and out of Hungary when he praised Miklos Horthy, who led the country following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Horthy was a Hitler ally who oversaw the murder of more than 500,000 Holocaust victims together with Nazi Germany.

Netanyahu noted that Hungary sponsored a statement in the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning anti-Semitism and inaugurated the renovated synagogue in Subotica after allocating millions of dollars to renovate Jewish houses of worship.

“In Hungary there is no tolerance for anti-Semitism, and all of the Jewish citizens in Hungary are under the protection of the government,” Orban told reporters before the start of the meeting. “We are proud that in Hungary, self-identifying Jews who celebrate and preserve Jewish tradition can feel safe.”

After meeting with Netanyahu, Orban met with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem.

“I know what you are doing against anti-Semitism. I know the efforts,” Rivlin told Orban during the meeting. “But we have to remember, when we say ‘Never again’ — neo-fascism and neo-fascist groups are a real danger to the very existence of the free world.”

Orban is not scheduled to meet with any Palestinian leaders during his visit.

At Yad Vashem, Orban laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance. Later, police removed the protesters who had detained the Hungarian leader. The protesters had also chided Yad Vashem for hosting Orban.

Orban was scheduled to have dinner Thursday with the Netanyahus at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. On Friday he is scheduled to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem before returning to Hungary.

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What is Israel doing hosting a world lacrosse championship?

Thu, 2018-07-19 17:14

Members of Israel’s national lacrosse team sway to the country’s national anthem before a game at the World Lacrosse Championships in Netanya, Israel, July 2018.  (Hillel Kuttler)

NETANYA, Israel (JTA) – Scott Neiss got the good news in an email in April 2017.

“Congratulations. More details to follow. Pat on the back,” read the message to Neiss, the Israel Lacrosse Association’s executive director.

A Federation of International Lacrosse official was notifying Neiss of the success of his whirlwind, nine-day campaign to bring the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship to Israel after the selected host, Manchester, England, dropped out due to financial challenges.

The Israeli and American lacrosse federations jumped in. The seaside town of Netanya won out over the University of Delaware’s campus in part, Neiss said, because it is closer to the European nations constituting the majority of the federation’s membership.

Fifteen months later, 45 foreign delegations have gathered at the Wingate Institute sport complex here to compete in a game developed by Native Americans and made popular in prep schools and elite colleges in North America before catching on around the world.   

Israel’s hosting of the world championship is a remarkable achievement for a country where lacrosse was only introduced by the New York-reared Neiss and other Americans in 2011.

“In a normal bid process” – five years – “no way we get it,” Neiss said Wednesday evening as he watched Israel, ranked seventh in the world, take on No. 4 Australia. (Israel lost, 9-6, and will finish the tournament between fifth and eighth place.)

The event, which runs through Saturday, is “an amazing opportunity to establish lacrosse as a game of the future for Israel,” said Paul Pearson, the referee in chief and a resident of Manchester.

Many see Israel as a wise selection, a reward for its innovative approach to cultivating the sport – and, perhaps, producing a replicable model for other countries new to lacrosse. Rather than enlist top American Jewish players as ringers to represent Israel in tournaments only to see them disperse, Neiss and Chief Operating Officer David Lasday cultivated local talent. The game, after all, combines elements of two sports already popular here, basketball and soccer. Playing on an outdoor field, players pass and catch a hard rubber ball in the basket of an aluminum or alloy stick, and score by whipping the ball into a 6-foot-square goal.

Half of the 22 American members of Israel’s team competing in the championships actually live in the Jewish state. Co-captains Seth Mahler and Jacob Silberlicht have each been here about five years. Mahler lives in Tel Aviv and works as the Israel Lacrosse Association men’s program director and as the under-19 team’s coach. For three years he developed the lacrosse youth program in Ashkelon.

Silberlicht lives in Ashkelon with another national team player, Chris Friedman, and the two coach programs in adjacent areas of the Negev: Silberlicht in Shaar Hanegev, Friedman in Sderot. Silberlicht served in the Israeli army, as did Matt Cherry, a coach who lived in Israel for three years before returning to America.

“For a newer nation to be the host country is exciting,” Kyle Baker, 30, an American playing for his mother’s homeland of Belgium, said Wednesday at the Wingate Institute, the site of nearly all the tournament’s games. He said Israel’s selection “wasn’t too surprising because I was aware of lacrosse’s growth and development [here].”

Wales players Josh Yeoman (left) and Chris Turner, taking part in the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, commended Israel’s grass-roots strategy for growing lacrosse. (Hillel Kuttler)

Baker is connected to Israel in two ways: Silberlicht is his friend, and teammate Jeremie Jochmans played last summer for the Israel Premier Lacrosse League’s Ashkelon team. Like Jewish American collegiate players visiting Israel during summer and winter breaks, Jochmans fulfilled the league’s requirement of coaching kids.

“The way Israel has done it, I think, is the right way,” said Chris Turner of Abergavenny, Wales. In Hungary, by contrast, which hosted a European championship, the host club consisted primarily of Americans, but the players returned to the United States without passing along their knowledge and experience to Hungarian children, he said.

“They didn’t give back, and they’re not developing,” Turner said. “Israel’s building from the grass roots, and it’s coming through.”

Turner’s teammate, Josh Yeoman, was impressed by how young Israelis grasped their lacrosse sticks at a Wales game here. Another time, at the edge of Wingate’s village green, he watched approximately 25 kids pass the ball to one another.

“When those kids grow,” Turner said, “[Israel’s team] will have a really strong core.”

The lone native Israeli competing on the national team is Ori Bar David, 18. At a world championship a decade or so from now, Bar David said, he hopes that “all the players will be native Israelis.”

The Americans are teaching Israelis lacrosse in afterschool clinics, gym classes and formal programs. Lidor Ashtamker, a 17-year-old in Ramle, was enticed unconventionally three years ago when a lacrosse-themed video game was shown being played on the television series “Teen Wolf.” The next day at school, two American visitors held lacrosse sticks.

“I thought that this was a gift from God, that this was meant to be,” he said.

That afternoon, Ashtamker attended a lacrosse practice. He passed, caught, even fielded ground balls having never before used lacrosse equipment.

By his senior year of high school, Ashtamker was teaching lacrosse fundamentals at Ramle elementary schools with their principals’ permission.

“I felt like I found what I wanted to do in my life,” he said.

That’s music to the ears of Marcelo Burdman, Ashkelon’s director of sports development, who once taught physical education.

Approximately 120 boys and girls play on youth teams in Ashkelon, making lacrosse second only to basketball, he said.

“Today, lacrosse is part of the sports activity of the city,” Burdman said. “[The Americans] have succeeded in making the sabra generation play. You can say it’s like a plant — lacrosse has roots.”

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How Russian nationalism explains Putin’s outreach to Jews and Israel

Thu, 2018-07-19 16:26

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greeting his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres in Moscow, 2012. (Office of the President of Russia)

(JTA) — While American politicians and pundits fumed at President Donald Trump’s performance at his much-anticipated meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, lost in the clamor was one small but crucial moment: Israel emerged from Helsinki a winner.

Trump said that he and Putin had reached a “really good conclusion” for Israel in regard to the situation in Syria. The Russian leader said he paid “special attention” to the Jewish state during the negotiations.

Trump’s unflinching support for Israel — perhaps a result of evangelical enthusiasm for the country, ideological nudging from his Jewish daughter and son-in-law or the continued need to rebuke all things Obama — is well documented. But Putin’s continuing support for the Jewish state is unexpected, especially since he backs Syria’s Bashar Assad, a war criminal whose prosaic regional interests often defy Israel’s.

Even more counterintuitive is the motivation behind his Jewish outreach: his raging nationalism — Putin’s deeply held belief that it is his personal duty to Make Russia Great Again.

“Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, czar in all but name, has a genius for mining the ore of Russian nationalism,” Ralph Peters of the Hoover Institution writes.

Masha Lipman‘s 2014 article in The New Yorker says Putin often frames his increasingly expansionist foreign policy around such nationalism, particularly “as a protection of ‘ours’ — and ‘ours’ are Russian, no matter where they live.”

Putin has made considerable efforts to reach out to Russian Jewish communities, both within his state’s borders and in Israel. His country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, is a close confidante. According to his biographers, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, he has “encouraged Russian oligarchs – irrespective of their ethnic or religious origin – to fund the restoration of synagogues and mosques, not just churches.”

“For Putin, Russia’s multiethnic, indigenous culture … must be preserved and actively maintained for the state to survive,” Hill, senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, and Gaddy, a former Brookings Institution fellow, write in their book “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.

“In Putin’s view, the Bolsheviks made a serious mistake in destroying these cultural artifacts,” which the authors say otherwise could have been “useful history for binding all the different groups together and creating a common heritage.”

Putin’s nationalism, unlike its Soviet predecessor, incorporates and claims ethnic minority groups, including Jews, weaving “ours” into the narrative governing Russia’s history and future in an effort to unite the Russian people and restore the former empire.

In a September 2010 meeting with then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Putin “in addition to stressing the importance of reaching out to Russian emigres,” write Hill and Gaddy, “talked wistfully of bringing back ‘our Jews’ who had emigrated to Israel.” They say Putin “rejected the idea that former Jewish citizens of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union might not want to come back to Russia” given previous discrimination.

A 2017 report indicated that the number of Russians emigrating from Israel to their ethnic homeland is rising.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior figure within Russia’s Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities, indicates that Putin’s conception of Russia, unlike its Soviet iteration, includes Jews.

“I believe that he has a sort of Russian nationalism, that they call patriotism, that includes all of the ‘native’ Russians in Mother Russian ethnicity — and Russian Jews are in as well,” Gorin told JTA in an email. “He is interested in the strong (sort of best) Russian Jewish community, as a matter of Russian pride.”

When a member of the Russian Duma suggested changing the state’s constitution in 2012 to remove the inclusive “we the multinational people of Russia” in favor of the exclusive “we the [ethnic] Russian people,” Putin dismissed the idea.

“We must not do that if you and I want to have a strong single nation,” Putin said, according to Hill and Gaddy. “The fact that the [ethnic] Russian people are ­– without a doubt – the backbone [of Russia] … cannot be questioned.” To divide everyone up, he said, “this is a very dangerous path. You and I, all of us, must not do this.”

When met with legitimate accusations of historical Soviet and contemporary Russian anti-Semitism, Putin has shifted blame elsewhere, particularly on the Ukrainians. And yet, “Whatever his many other sins, even Vladimir Putin’s harshest critics concede that he’s not an anti-Semite,” writes Joshua Keating in Slate.

Asked if anti-Semitism has become less prevalent in recent years, Gorin told JTA, “sure it has.” The rabbi said it’s partly because of the huge Jewish migration from the Soviet Union, “as [now there is] nobody to hate,” but also “partly because of Putin’s positive steps toward the Jewish community.”

Experts report that anti-Semitism in Russia is in decline, and JTA has reported how the Russian judiciary has cracked down on anti-Semitic intimidation. “The complete absence of anti-Semitism on the part of Boris Yeltsin has been well-documented, and that seems to be true for Putin as well,” David Rivera, visiting assistant professor of government at Hamilton College and former director of the Harvard Russian Institute of International Affairs in Moscow, told JTA. “Indeed, Yeltsin probably would not have chosen Putin to be his successor as president had he detected any anti-Semitism on Putin’s part.”

Marvin Kalb, a Brookings Institution fellow who authored the 2015 book “Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War,” suggested that Putin’s courting of Russia’s Jews is the result of cold calculation, not emotion.

“He reaches out to the Jews of Russia for reasons relating to old-fashioned Slavic anti-Semitism and the new requirements of Russian policy in the Middle East,” Kalb told JTA in an email. “Russian nationalists have long believed that Jews are troublemakers, capable of arousing the public with anti-establishment (anti-Putin) sentiments. Better, if possible, to soothe their unhappiness with mild, agreeable words.

“Russia’s position in the Middle East is now paramount, Putin having achieved what no Tsar could before him,” he continued. “In this new power role, he tries to serve as middleman between Israel and the Arabs — and Iran. It requires balancing interests, and so far he has done very well. Putin is a cold, calculating Russian nationalist, with little love or feeling for anyone who does not share this background and beliefs.

“Historically, Jews have not been part of this world.”

Putin’s calculations have long resulted in overtures to Israel. While wrapping up a visit to Moscow in 2000, Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky received a call from the Kremlin inviting him to a private lunch with the Russian president.

Putin “said it wasn’t simple in the KGB being sympathetic to Jews,” Sharansky told the Post. “But he told me how he grew up in [a] communal apartment and there was a Jewish family there which for him were almost like relatives. He liked them very much.”

Sharansky, according to The Washington Post, said “Putin spent much of the lunch expressing … his sympathy for Israel, his distaste for anti-Semitism and the importance he attaches to Jews in Russia and the Jewish Diaspora.” The Post noted that perhaps like Israel at large, Sharansky “was impressed by Putin’s overture to Diaspora Jews — regardless of the motivation behind it.”

In 2005, Putin visited the Jewish state, meeting not only with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but also with his Jewish high school German teacher who had emigrated, reportedly buying her a Tel Aviv apartment. (Putin inherited the apartment when she died; the Russian Embassy sent a representative to her 2018 funeral and covered its costs.) In 2012, Putin invited then-Israeli President Shimon Peres to Moscow for the dedication of the Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, telling him “we will never forget the sacrifices made by the Jewish people in the fight against Nazism, and we will never forget the Holocaust.”

A few months earlier, Putin had traveled to Israel for the dedication of a monument – the Victory Monument in Netanya – thanking the Red Army. During the visit, Putin promised that he “would not let a million Russians live under threat,” referring to Israel’s Russian-speaking immigrant population. In Moscow, months later, Putin reminded Peres of the dedication, noting: “Just recently, the two of us attended in Israel the unveiling of a monument to the Red Army, which made enormous sacrifices for our shared victory over Nazism.”

In referencing a “shared victory” between the once stateless Jewish people and a state that no longer exists, Putin is willing into existence a largely ahistorical, although strong, relationship likely to be welcomed by the Israelis: a timeless and necessary one between Jews and the Russian people, providing survival for both.

Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have met in Russia and in Israel, pursuing future “shared victories” and strengthening a fledgling symbiotic relationship. In May, Netanyahu traveled to Moscow, taking part in the once-Soviet, now-Russian Victory Day parade commemorating the Soviet defeat of Nazism.

Gorin, for one, believes Putin’s warm gestures to Jews and Israel are welcome and, like everything else he does, in service of his vision for Russia.

“Is he good for the Jews? For the organized community without any doubts he is,” the rabbi said. “For the Jews as the private citizens, [he is] good for those who admire him and bad for the Jews in opposition. Same as for the rest of [the] population.”

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