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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, first Jewish woman to serve on Supreme Court, dies at 87

Sat, 2020-09-19 00:04

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court and a tireless advocate for gender equality, has died at 87.

A fierce jurist known for her outsized presence and outspokenness, Ginsburg died from “complications of metastatic pancreas cancer,” the Supreme Court announced Friday night. She had previously survived multiple bouts of different cancers over the course of two decades, vowing that she was healthy enough to continue her work and at times returning the Court’s bench shortly after hospital stays.

Ginsburg’s death comes on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, six weeks before the presidential election and at a time of intense political polarization. Four years ago, the Republican-held Senate refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Court, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will attempt to fill any spots that open up on the Court while President Trump is in office. Trump has already appointed two judges, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, during his presidential tenure.

Ginsburg reportedly told her granddaughter Clara Spera in her final days: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

In her 27 years on the court, Ginsburg emerged not only as the putative leader of the court’s liberal wing, but as a pop cultural phenomenon and feminist icon, earning as an octogenarian the moniker Notorious R.B.G. — a play off the deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G.

She won liberal acclaim by penning blistering dissents in high-profile cases concerning birth control, voter ID laws and affirmative action, even as she maintained a legendary friendship with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, the staunchly conservative firebrand who died in 2016.

She was also frank about the importance of Jewish tradition in influencing her life and career, hanging the Hebrew injunction to pursue justice on the walls of her Supreme Court chambers.

“I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew,” she said in an address to the American Jewish Committee following her 1993 appointment to the court. “The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.”

Ginsburg was nominated to the nation’s highest bench by President Bill Clinton following the retirement of Byron White. In her Rose Garden nominating ceremony, Clinton lauded her for standing with the “the outsider in society …. telling them that they have a place in our legal system, by giving them a sense that the Constitution and the laws protect all the American people, not simply the powerful.”

Ginsburg attributed that outsider perspective to her Jewish roots, pointing often to her heritage as a building block of her perspective on the bench.

“Laws as protectors of the oppressed, the poor, the loner, is evident in the work of my Jewish predecessors on the Supreme Court,” she wrote in an essay for the AJC. “The Biblical command: ‘Justice, justice shalt thou pursue’ is a strand that ties them together.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1933 to Nathan Bader, a Russian immigrant and furrier, and the former Celia Amster, Ginsburg often noted that her mother was “barely second generation,” having been born a scant four months after her parents’ arrival from Hungary. Ginsburg was keenly aware of the Jewish immigrant experience and of her own good fortune to be born on these shores. The Holocaust colored her perspective of the world and the law.

President Bill Clinton speaks as he names Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 14, 1993. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty Images)

“Our nation learned from Hitler’s racism and, in time, embarked on a mission to end law-sanctioned discrimination in our own country,” Ginsburg said at a 2004 Yom Hashoah commemoration at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “In the aftermath of World War II, in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, in the burgeoning Women’s Rights movement of the 1970s, ‘We the People’ expanded to include all of humankind, to embrace all the people of this great nation. Our motto, E Pluribus Unum, of many one, signals our appreciation that we are the richer for the religious, ethnic, and racial diversity of our citizens.”

But while Ginsburg was fortunate to be born in the United States, even brilliant women in the 1950s had no easy path. After graduating from Cornell University, where she met her husband Martin Ginsburg, she lived for two years in Oklahoma, where she experienced the setbacks women faced at the time when she was demoted from her job at the Social Security Administration after her supervisor discovered she was three months pregnant.

Two years later, she was one of only nine women in her Harvard Law school class. She had a 14-month old daughter and endlessly battled the skepticism of her professors and colleagues. A well-known story has it that at a meeting between her female classmates and the law school dean, the women were asked why they deserved a spot taken from men.

When Martin, who had graduated from Harvard a year before her, took a law firm job in New York, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia. At both schools, she served on the law review and she finished Columbia tied for first in her class. Yet not a single law firm would hire her.

Ginsburg eventually clerked for Judge Edward Palmieri and went on to teach law at Rutgers. She created the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and was the first tenured woman to teach law at Columbia. Ginsburg quickly built a reputation for establishing gender parity before the law, arguing six major sex-discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning all but one.

In one of those winning cases, Weinburger vs. Wiesenfeld in 1975, Ginsburg represented a widower left with a child in his care when his wife died in childbirth. The father requested the childcare benefits that a woman would receive if her husband died but which were then denied to men.

“From the outset, she insisted that gender discrimination was not only an issue of women’s rights, demonstrating how using gender as a basis for different treatment was also harmful to men,” said Judith Rosenbaum of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter named her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Her nomination to the Supreme Court was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate on Aug. 3, 1993. She took her judicial oath of office a week later, becoming only the second woman to serve on the court, after Sandra Day O’Connor.

As a Supreme Court jurist, Ginsburg continued her fight for gender equality. In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion in United States vs. Virginia, which deemed the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of not admitting women unconstitutional. She also authored the dissent in Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire, a pay discrimination case that would lead to the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Though a critic of the landmark Roe v Wade case that decriminalized abortion nationally, Ginsburg consistently argued for protecting the right to abortion.

Late in her career, she emerged as a cultural icon. In 2013, law student Shana Knizhik started a Tumblr blog collecting all manner of Ginsburg fan art, from celebratory tattoos to coffee mugs, T-shirts to onesies. The blog spawned a 2015 book of the same name co-authored with Irin Carmon.

“Justice Ginsburg more than earned her Notorious crown and the admiration of millions of people with her fearless advocacy for marginalized people and her stubborn belief that women are people,” said Carmon. “People felt moved to make fan art and tattoo her face on their bodies because she spoke for them when it mattered.”

Ginsburg is survived by two children — Jane, a law professor at Columbia, and James, a music producer — and four grandchildren.

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A tale of two High Holidays: Why Orthodox Jews are going to synagogue while everyone else is on Zoom

Fri, 2020-09-18 19:33

(JTA) – At the Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, this year’s High Holidays will be anything but normal.

With eight services happening in various spaces throughout the building, on the roof and in the street (closed off to facilitate services), approximately 400 people will gather for socially distanced and masked services at the Modern Orthodox synagogue.

Within just a few blocks of the synagogue, members of eight Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist synagogues will gather at multiple street corners or lean out their windows to hear the shofar after attending Rosh Hashanah services over livestream.

The different services are emblematic of the starkly divided approaches to the High Holidays that American Jews will experience this year. While for Orthodox synagogues, services will largely be held in person, for most non-Orthodox synagogues, prayer will take place over livestream, with in-person offerings confined to short, outdoor rituals.

Even before the pandemic, the two communities were different in many ways. But this year’s High Holidays have cast new light on the primary difference between Orthodox and non-Orthodox congregations across the country: their approach to halacha, Jewish law.

Jewish law is composed of the biblical and rabbinic texts that guide nearly every aspect of daily life. For Orthodox Jews, Jewish law is considered binding and is meant to be interpreted by rabbinic experts. For Conservative Jews, Jewish law is also considered binding, though the Conservative movement has shown more flexibility in adapting certain rules to changing circumstances. For the Reform movement, rabbinic answers to Jewish legal questions are seen as more “advisory” than “authoritative.”

During the pandemic itself, the Conservative movement has adopted some new rabbinic decisions, called teshuvot, to adapt Jewish practice to a socially distanced world.

In March, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards ruled that services requiring a minyan, or a quorum of ten adults, could be held over video conferencing in a moment of crisis. In May, the committee ruled that video conferencing could be used for Shabbat and holiday services when electronic devices would generally not be used. Conservative rabbis and congregants even worked with Zoom to make sure streaming would be possible without requiring the violation of other prohibitions. 

By contrast, in the Orthodox community, video conferencing is not considered a valid substitute for the 10 adult men needed for an Orthodox minyan. And when it comes to Shabbat and holidays, no major Orthodox rabbis have allowed for the use of video conferencing.

Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, who works at Beis Medrash Mikor Hachaim, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, said that for Orthodox Jews, the act of gathering in a synagogue is “essential,” much like the work done by healthcare and grocery store workers.

“In our minds this is as essential of an essential service as possible,” said Robinson.

And for Robinson, the High Holidays won’t be the first time his synagogue returns to in-person services. His synagogue first reopened for Shabbat services in May, with distanced and masked services, meaning the synagogue has had months of practice. While many Orthodox communities first encouraged backyard minyans, many Orthodox synagogues began reopening at their synagogues in late spring and early summer.

“We’ve been doing this for so long and we’ve done well with it,” said Robinson of his synagogue’s services over the last several months.

But to Rabbi Vanessa Ochs, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Virginia, High Holiday services are no less essential for Reform and Conservative Jews.

“Particularly for the thousands of thousands of American Jews who come together once or twice a year for the High Holidays and that’s how they identify themselves – it’s a necessity,” said Ochs.

For them, the non-Orthodox approach to using technology on holidays means a risk-benefit analysis around whether to hold in-person services yields another conclusion. “There is an alternative,” said Ochs.

One place where the two parts of the Jewish world will come together is around shofar blowing, a required component of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur observance. While the Reform and Conservative movements have allowed for High Holiday services to take place over Zoom, many synagogues — in all parts of the Jewish world — have still organized opportunities to hear the shofar in person in an outdoor setting. 

Here, too, halacha may play a role, as Conservative rabbis have not issued formal opinions about whether listening to a shofar over Zoom fulfills the commandment to hear its blast. But even more important for some is the chance to give community members a small in-person experience at a time when more is out of reach.

In addition to the shofar blowings organized by the liberal synagogues on the Upper West Side, local Orthodox synagogues have also organized opportunities to hear the shofar outdoors for those who are not comfortable attending a full in-person service, particularly older people or families with young children.

The public shofar blowing may be new for many communities, but the initiative has antecedents in the Chabad movement. Since the 1950s at the direction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Chabad emissaries have blown the shofar in parks, hospitals and other public spaces in communities around the world for those who would not otherwise hear the shofar.

“It’s exciting to me as the rebbe’s student,” said Rabbi Shalom Paltiel of the Chabad Center in Port Washington, New York, “that in 2020, 70 years later, everybody is doing it, every temple from every denomination is taking the shofar to the local park.”

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Germany pledges extra $26 million for Jewish security

Fri, 2020-09-18 18:16

(JTA) – Germany has pledged an additional $26 million to the country’s Jewish umbrella organization this year to cover security costs as Jewish leaders fret over a rise in right-wing anti-Semitism.

The announcement comes nearly a year after a violent attack on the synagogue in Halle, on Yom Kippur, which left two passersby dead. The alleged perpetrator, who attempted to enter the synagogue with a gun but was blocked, is currently on trial in Magdeburg.

The attack “has drastically shown us that Jewish life needs massive protection,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement issued Wednesday, after the security funding agreement was signed with the German government.

The funds are to be used for drastic improvements to the physical security of synagogues and other communal buildings, according to the joint statement by the Central Council and the federal Ministry of the Interior.

“Jews must be able feel safe living in Germany – it is also in the interest of the state,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who pledged to “do everything possible to provide the necessary protection. We understand our responsibility.”

The alleged attacker in Halle – a right-winger with homemade weapons – had tried unsuccessfully to shoot his way through the front doors of the synagogue while 52 people were attending services inside. Those doors had already been reinforced thanks to a grant from the Jewish Agency for Israel. But the back doors had not been, and congregants inside the synagogue barricaded them during the attack.

The deadly attack brought home, among other things, the need for improved security and funding for educational programs to combat anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

In December, the federal government and its 16 states agreed to boost funding to Jewish communities to support the rapid implementation of structural and technical security measures. Wednesday’s announcement brings the pledge to fruition.

In a joint statement, Schuster said security costs have been a “considerable financial burden on our communities,” especially since Halle, and that the commitment of the government was greatly appreciated.

The government already gives the Central Council 13 million euros (or $15.4 million) per year to cover administrative and infrastructure costs for some 80 communities nationwide. The contract was signed originally in 2003, putting the Jewish umbrella body on a legal par with the Protestant and Catholic churches, which each have contracts with the federal government.

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A Fox show called out Newt Gingrich for his George Soros rhetoric. Then its host apologized.

Fri, 2020-09-18 18:11

(JTA) — An exchange Wednesday on a Fox News show struck many as remarkable: Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, blamed “George Soros’ money” for violence in American cities before being shut down by two other panelists on “Outnumbered.”

The next day saw an apology — from the show for not letting Gingrich finish.

Depicting Soros — the Jewish American Holocaust survivor, financier and liberal megadonor — as President Donald Trump’s chief opponent and the source of America’s ills has become increasingly common among Republicans. He has been lambasted on Fox several times.

Fox News guests and hosts have, like Gingrich, blamed Soros for the unrest and violence accompanying protests this summer. Others have called him a “puppet master,” falsely blamed him for the migrant caravans in 2018 and talked of the “Soros-occupied State Department.” In one instance, a sitting congressman repeated the false claim that Soros helped perpetrate the Holocaust. (Fox apologized for the last two.)

Anti-Semitism watchdogs have cautioned against rhetoric demonizing Soros, saying it perpetuates anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about rich Jews secretly controlling the world with their money, spreading disease or trying to “replace” America’s white population with immigrants of color.

In 2018, based on the false allegation that Soros was behind the migrant caravan, a man sent a pipe bomb to Soros’ house. Days later, a gunman killed 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He, too, had demonized Soros on social media.

But last week on Twitter, Gingrich begged to differ with the notion that criticizing Soros is anti-Semitic.

“Why are some in the left so afraid of our mentioning George Soros’ name that they scream anti-semitic?” Gingrich tweeted on Sept. 9. “It IS his name. He IS funding pro-criminal, anti police district attorneys. Why is the left afraid of the facts?”

Soros has funded progressive candidates for district attorney across the country. One week after his tweet, on Sept. 16, Gingrich took his criticism a step further on “Outnumbered,” citing those campaign donations in order to blame Soros for violence in American cities.

“The No. 1 problem in almost all these cities is George Soros-elected, left-wing anti-police, pro-criminal district attorneys who refuse to keep people locked up,” Gingrich said. “Progressive district attorneys are anti-police, pro-criminal and overwhelmingly elected with George Soros’ money, and they’re a major cause of the violence we’re seeing because they keep putting the violent criminals back on the street.”

Fellow panelists Marie Harf and Melissa Francis objected to Gingrich bringing up Soros.

“George Soros doesn’t need to be a part of this conversation,” Harf said.

“So it’s verboten?” Gingrich replied.

After a few seconds of silence, the host, Harris Faulkner, said, “OK, we’re going to move on.”

Right-wing activists on Twitter were not happy with how the conversation went down.

“Why on Earth is Fox News protecting George Soros?” wrote David Harris Jr., a fellow at the Falkirk Center, the think tank at the evangelical Liberty University founded by, and named after, Charlie Kirk and the university’s ousted former president, Jerry Falwell, Jr.

“FOX News Panel Melts Down After Newt Gingrich Correctly Calls Out Lawless Soros-Funded District Attorneys,” wrote Jim Hoft, founder of the Gateway Pundit, a far-right news site.

“Fox has not disclosed why it muzzled Newt Gingrich, a former House Speaker, from discussing George Soros’ record of meddling in elections all over the country,” wrote Sean Davis, co-founder of the Federalist, a right-wing publication.

On Thursday, Faulkner apologized and called Gingrich “beloved.”

“We had a little incident on the show yesterday that was not smooth,” the show’s host said. “While I was leading the segment, we had interruptions, and I sat silently while all of that played out. Also not ideal. Our guest, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is beloved, and needed to be allowed to speak with the openness and respect that the show is all about, was interrupted. Do we debate with fire here? Yes. But we must also give each other the space to express ourselves.”

She added, “We don’t censor on this show. And that’s why we’re winning weekdays at noon.”

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At a time when many Jewish newspapers are struggling, Detroit’s to seek sustainability by going nonprofit

Fri, 2020-09-18 17:41

(JTA) — Detroit’s Jewish newspaper is becoming a nonprofit news organization in a change aimed at creating a pathway to sustainability during a moment of crisis for the local news industry nationwide.

Beginning Oct. 1, the 78-year-old Detroit News will be operated by a nonprofit foundation, according to the newspaper’s announcement Thursday. The paper will keep its staff, continue to produce a print edition and still run advertising. But it will also be able to become a destination for donations from private individuals and philanthropies.

That model, its publisher and newly formed foundation hope, will allow the paper to stave off the financial pressures that have caused many papers to shutter or switch to digital only in recent years.

“The decision by the board helps assure that the Jewish News, through its print and digital platforms, can continue to meet the diverse information needs of the community for years to come,” Larry Jackier, the foundation’s vice president, said in the announcement on the paper’s website.

Financial stress has taken a toll on multiple Jewish newspapers, including several for whom the drop-off in advertising during the pandemic spelled disaster. The Canadian Jewish News, for example, ceased publication in April, and The New York Jewish Week announced that it was going online only in July. Two longstanding British Jewish newspapers also announced that they would shutter because of the pandemic, though they later changed those plans and remained open with different management.

The Detroit News announcement comes the same week that another local Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Standard of northern New Jersey, announced that it will increase the number of New Jersey counties that it covers through an agreement with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

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One Zoom employee saved High Holidays streaming for 300 synagogues

Fri, 2020-09-18 17:27

(JTA) — When Rosh Hashanah begins on Friday night, some 300 synagogues across North America streaming their High Holidays services via Zoom will be able to set it and forget it thanks largely to one man: Mitch Tarica.

Tarica is the streaming platform’s director of North American sales. He’s also a member of Temple Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and he was critical in getting Zoom to make a small but vital tweak to its software that temporarily stopped it from automatically ending a meeting after 24 hours.

That change was crucial to enabling hundreds of synagogues to stream their services on Zoom without running afoul of Jewish laws barring the use of technology on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. For synagogues that request it, Zoom will temporarily allow meetings to run as long as 72 hours, enabling synagogues to set up their stream prior to the start of Rosh Hashanah on Friday afternoon and have it run uninterrupted through Sunday night.

“Rabbi Heller had reached out to Rabbi [Brian] Schuldenfrei, who is my rabbi, and said, ‘Hey, word on the street is someone from Zoom is part of your congregation. We need some help for the High Holidays,’” Tarica told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview conducted, naturally, via Zoom.

Rabbi Heller is Josh Heller, a Conservative rabbi in Atlanta who in May authored a rabbinic opinion permitting synagogues to stream services on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. Officially, the Conservative movement bars the use of most computer technology on those days, but given the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, Heller determined that it was permissible to use streaming technology with one critical caveat: The stream had to be up and running before the holiday and require no direct interaction with an electronic device.

That worked fine for Shabbat, when the most widely attended services are held on Friday evening and the following Saturday morning. But Rosh Hashanah lasts two days, and synagogues using Zoom in accordance with Heller’s parameters would find the feed automatically conked out before the second day began.

Heller began working on the Rosh Hashanah problem months ago. Initially he went through the normal channels, reaching out to the company’s tech support department. When that ran aground, he tried engaging the help of a congregant whose company gave Zoom lots of business. That helped him reach someone a little higher up the food chain.

“This has basically been one of my hobbies during the pandemic — figuring out how to use streaming technology in a way that avoids, or at least minimizes, violations of Jewish law,” Heller said.

Eventually he got a tip that there was a rabbi in California who had a congregant in a senior position at Zoom and sent Schuldenfrei an email. Schuldenfrei picked up the phone and called Tarica.

“‘We’re going to figure this out,’” Tarica told Heller. “I already have the entire Palos Verdes Jewish community reaching out to me personally.”

Tarica is a 20-year veteran of the tech industry, but he’s only been at Zoom since last year. Back then, the company was almost solely a business tool, providing videoconferencing services to about 10 million daily meeting participants. That number has since ballooned to 340 million — among them countless synagogues that have come to rely on the company for prayer and community since most of them shut down in-person services in March.

“It was intense, man,” Tarica said of those early weeks after the pandemic transformed Zoom overnight into the must-have tool of the coronavirus era.

Tarica grew up in Denver attending the Conservative Rodef Shalom and settled in Palos Verdes with his wife and two children seven years ago. His daughter had her bat mitzvah at Ner Tamid three years ago, and his son was due to follow suit over Labor Day weekend, but it was bumped due to the pandemic. His wife serves on the synagogue’s executive committee.

When the pandemic hit and the synagogue moved its Shabbat services to Zoom, Tarica found himself running tech support for members of the community struggling to figure out how to use it. But like many Jews, he’s also found the new normal has its upsides, like the connections he forms with other congregants on Saturday morning who use Zoom’s breakout room function to discuss the rabbi’s sermon — or just as often chat about their week.

“I’m connected with 75 people during services, but then we break into groups of four or five and make a real connection,” Tarica said. “You don’t get to do that in shul, unless it’s afterward at the kiddush.”

Notably, Ner Tamid will not be using Zoom to stream its High Holiday services this year. The synagogue is going with a more choreographed service that is better supported by a different platform.

But when Tarica logs on, he’s going to be thinking of all the ways he and his company have been instrumental in helping the world weather this crisis.

“The ability to give back in other ways than monetary ways just means a lot,” he said. “And a lot about the Jewish holidays is about looking forward and health and trying to refresh a new year. So that’s what I’m going to be praying for when I virtually sit in synagogue with my family, praying for a healthy year ahead. We’re ready for a new year to begin.”

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This Holocaust trauma thriller involved a Jewish character at first. Its Israeli director made the character Roma.

Fri, 2020-09-18 17:19

(JTA) — When Israeli director Yuval Adler saw the script for “The Secrets We Keep,” a thriller about a woman who kidnaps a man she believes was her Nazi torturer during World War II, he knew he wanted to make some changes.

The story revolved around a Jewish woman who endured horrors at a German concentration camp — a plot Adler found a little stale. He started talking to the lead actress, Noomi Rapace, known for her starring role in the original Swedish “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” films, about her personal life to see if they could freshen it up with details from her own story.

To Adler’s surprise, Rapace told him that she believes she has Roma ancestry and she was emotionally connected to their story. So they changed the Jewish character into a Roma one.

The result is a film that grapples with Holocaust trauma from a perspective different from the Jewish experience — but one that in many ways was frighteningly similar.

“I think it’s great because this is a story that you usually don’t see,” Adler said.

The trauma concept looms large in the film, which debuts Friday on On Demand platforms. Rapace stars as Maja, a Romani woman who lives with her American doctor husband in a small town in the U.S. South in the 1950s. Maja sees a man who she is convinced is a former Nazi who was part of a group of German soldiers that raped and killed members of her family — including her sister — during a wartime incident that she relives constantly in traumatic flashbacks. She decides to kidnap him.

Noomi Rapace stars as Maja in “The Secrets We Keep.” She believes she has some Roma heritage. (Patti Perret/Bleecker Street)

Once Maja has the man tied up in her basement, she has to convince her husband that her hunch is true though she has no tangible evidence. As she bombards the man with questions (and some physical abuse), her motives become unclear, and her husband, who has never heard Maja’s war stories, begins to wonder if trauma has clouded her judgment. 

The movie is inspired by the 1994 film “Death and the Maiden,” which was itself an adaptation of a play by Ariel Dorfman. Roman Polanski directed the earlier version, which is set in South America — a continent known for housing many Nazis after the war. Besides Rapace, “The Secrets We Keep” stars Swedish action movie heartthrob Joel Kinnaman as Thomas, the kidnapped man, and Chris Messina as Maja’s husband, Lewis.

Thomas’ wife, whom Maja befriends as she holds her prisoner hostage, is Jewish — that adds another layer of doubt to the suspicious plot.

Adler, who has a doctorate in philosophy and worked as a sculptor, has become one of the best-known Israeli directors working in the U.S., thanks to the success of his acclaimed 2013 debut “Bethlehem” — an Israeli police thriller that won the equivalent of six Israeli Oscars and was his country’s entry in the Academy Awards’ foreign film race.

He also directed the 2019 film “The Operative,” which stars Diane Kruger as a Mossad agent working in Iran. He is currently adapting Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman’s book about the Mossad, “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations,” for an HBO series.

For this film, Adler dove into researching the Roma experience during the Holocaust. The Roma people, who descend from an area of India and often are derogatorily referred to as “gypsies” for their nomadic ways, lost about 25% of their population, or approximately 250,000 people, to the Nazis, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

But they weren’t kept in concentration camps, Adler noted — more often they were the target of war crimes out in the open. The incident Maja lived through was based on a real war crime that took place in eastern Romania.

Yuval Adler, left, directs Rapace on set. (Patti Perret/Bleecker Street)

Growing up in Israel, the home for many Jewish Holocaust refugees, Adler was surrounded by stories of World War II and its trauma. In fact, Adler’s mother’s family took in two Jewish children after the war who had lost their parents. She would go on to write a popular novel based on their story titled “The Brothers of Auschwitz” that was translated recently into English.

But Adler was more excited about the script for its riveting story set in a closed, thrilling environment. And for its mysterious qualities.

“I’m very attracted to stories where you have a couple, and suddenly one person says to the other, ‘There’s something you don’t know about me.’ And the other person says, ‘Wait a minute, maybe I don’t even know who this other person is,” he said.

The filmmaker isn’t even that interested in the debate over how, or if, revenge should be taken against Nazis, which is raised these days in everything from video games to productions like Amazon’s “Hunters.” He describes himself as more of a “street fighter” than a “high road guy.”

What Adler is interested in, though, is how to judge people today for sins committed in a different time and how to preserve the record of history.

“How do you deal with the past?” he asks. “You can acknowledge that stuff was bad in the past, or are you going to try to rewrite and destroy and eliminate it?”

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Massachusetts court chief Ralph Gants remembered as a giant of justice

Fri, 2020-09-18 15:57

BOSTON (JTA) – Flags across Massachusetts were lowered to half-staff this week in honor of Ralph Gants, the first Jewish chief justice of the state’s highest court, whose death at 65 shocked the state’s legal community.

Judges, lawyers, political figures and community leaders remembered Gants as a legal giant, passionate in his dedication to equal justice and steeped in compassion for people from all walks of life.

“He spent his entire 40-year legal career dedicated to justice and the integrity of law,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.

Gants’ death was announced on Sept. 14 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 10 days after he was hospitalized following a heart attack. Gants had anticipated resuming his duties, initially on a limited basis, according to a statement he released.

The cause of death has not yet been disclosed. Courthouses across the state closed Friday in Gants’ honor.

Speaking emotionally about Gants for more than four minutes before a scheduled event, Baker described Gants as an avid soccer player and an exceptional leader who “led the court with honor and distinction.”

“He will be missed,” Baker said.

Gants was renowned both for his intelligence and his humility. He pressed for prison reform and fair sentencing, among other issues. A report from Harvard Law School on racial disparities in the Massachusetts legal system released earlier this month was undertaken at Gants’ request.

In a 2015 speech to the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Gants invoked his Jewish heritage, noting that his ancestors and those of other immigrant groups were at one time unwelcome in the United States.

“I am here to assure you that you do not stand alone,” Gants said.

“That kind of gesture and heartfelt statement to people he knew were vulnerable or targeted, that is so the essence of Ralph Gants,” said Jeffrey Robbins, a Boston lawyer who served as chair of the New England Anti-Defamation League and was close with Gants.

Gants spoke at many New England ADL programs and several years ago made his first visit to Israel, leading a delegation of Massachusetts judges to meet with their Israeli counterparts.

Gants was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1954. After graduating Harvard and its law school, he worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. After some years in private practice, he was appointed to the state’s Superior Court. In 2009, Gants was named an appointed associate justice at the Supreme Judicial Court and was elevated to the top position by then Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014.

He is survived by his wife, Deborah Ramirez, and two children.

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3 Holocaust monuments vandalized with swastikas in Ukraine and Russia

Fri, 2020-09-18 15:47

(JTA) — In three separate incidents this week, swastikas were painted on two monuments for Holocaust victims in Ukraine, and another one in Russia.

At the former concentration camp Bogdanovka, in southern Ukraine, a note with three swastikas was addressed to three prominent Jews: Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky, former politician Yevhen Chervonenko and Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

“Come to your senses, please stop, because the sale of Ukrainian land will quickly lead you to the Holocaust,” the note said.

Additional swastikas were etched and painted on the marble monument commemorating the murder of 54,000 Jews there during the Holocaust, Dolinsky wrote Tuesday on Facebook.

The same day, another incident was documented near Kirovgrad, some 100 miles north of Bogdanovka, were swastikas were spray-painted on a slab of marble commemorating the mass shooting of thousands of Jews in 1942. They wrote “Death to the kikes” at the foot of the monument.

Police are looking for the perpetrators of both incidents, the Ukrainian National Police wrote in a statement.

In Russia, police arrested a 30-year-old man for painting a cross and pouring yellow paint on a monument for Holocaust victims in Aksay, a village outside the city of Rostov-on-Don near the border with Ukraine. The man had a dispute with an employer and vented his frustration by destroying the monument, the news site Volga Kaspiy reported Friday.

The report did not say whether the employer was Jewish.

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Hearing in trial of Hyper Cacher store killings set for Yom Kippur, and court won’t change the date

Fri, 2020-09-18 15:40

(JTA) — A hearing in the trial of alleged accomplices in the 2015 Hyper Cacher kosher store attack in Paris that left four people dead was set for Yom Kippur.

Lawyers for the families of victims have asked for a postponement for the Sept. 28 hearing, i24 News reported Tuesday. On the Day of Atonement, the most sacred on the Jewish calendar, Jews are prevented from traveling, working, eating and drinking.

According to the report, the court’s administration is reluctant to change the date of the hearing because of concerns connected to the separation of church and state.

The trial began last month against 14 people whom prosecutors say had been involved in the slaying by radical Islamists of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, the deadly attack on a police officer and the killing of four Jews at Hyper Cacher during a three-day spree in January 2015.

Among the defendants is a former prison buddy and alleged accomplice of Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed in a shootout with police at the kosher store. He also killed the police officer. Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo and were killed there.

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QAnon is an old form of anti-Semitism in a new package, experts say

Fri, 2020-09-18 15:30

(JTA) — Scott Wiener, a California state senator, has been barraged with anti-Semitic attacks online, including one falsely accusing him of promoting “Jewish pedophilia.”

A Republican congressional candidate, Marjorie Taylor Greene, appeared to accuse George Soros and the Rothschild family of being involved in a cabal of Democratic pedophiles. On Twitter, she has repeatedly called Soros, a Jewish billionaire, of being an “enemy of the people.”

On Sept. 11, a Facebook group’s post claimed that an Israeli company knew about the 2001 terrorists attacks in advance.

These smears have at least one thing in common: They come from followers of QAnon, the vast — and patently false — theory that Democrats across the country are running a secret cabal to abduct and abuse children, harvest their blood and defeat Donald Trump.

But are those anti-Semitic beliefs baked into QAnon? Or do some of the posters happen to be anti-Semites while believing in QAnon?

The answer, according to those who study extremism and have been watching the meteoric ascent of QAnon, is the former: QAnon is inherently anti-Semitic — and only growing more so. Researchers are still gathering data, but are seeing the trend pop up globally. The New York Times reported that there are 200,000 QAnon social media accounts on Germany’s far right, and that the conspiracy was part of what inspired a faction of German extremists to storm its parliament in August.

“In terms of qualitative intelligence, there’s no doubt that it’s becoming more anti-Semitic,” said Joel Finkelstein, the director of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies hate and incitement on social media, and is gathering data on anti-Semitism in QAnon. “There’s just no doubt about that.”

The QAnon theory has become increasingly popular and visible in recent months, in the United States and abroad. According to NBC, its Facebook groups boasted millions of members in early August. Republican candidates for Congress have supported it, and people wearing or carrying Q slogans have shown up to mainstream political rallies. Even as some Republican leaders have condemned the theory, Trump has declined to disavow it.

The theory is expansive and elastic, stretching to include many different tropes in the service of its sweeping scope. That can make its core anti-Semitism hard to detect or track.

But the claim that rich Jews, including the Rothschild banking family, secretly control the world has long been a recurring feature. And other elements that don’t explicitly mention Jews also have anti-Semitic resonance, like the blood libel, an age-old anti-Semitic canard claiming that Jews kill Christian children to harvest their blood for ritual purposes.

“This whole blood libel is very prominent there, the idea of kidnapping children for blood,” said Magda Teter, a Jewish studies professor and author of “Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Antisemitic Myth.” “People are going to start googling ‘killing children for blood.’ That will lead them to anti-Semitism even if they may not be initially inclined.”

In recent weeks, QAnon has begun to attract heightened scrutiny, many others have pressed that case. One was the founder of the group Genocide Watch, former George Mason University professor of genocide studies Gregory Stanton, who published a piece earlier this month titled “QAnon is a Nazi cult, rebranded.”

QAnon is the latest version of “the conspiracy ‘revealed’ in the most influential anti-Jewish pamphlet of all time. It was called Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Stanton wrote in his essay. He also said QAnon is a revamped take on the blood libel, which was spread in modern times through the “Protocols.”

In fact, according to Eric Feinberg, vice president of content moderation at the Coalition for a Safer Web, which aims to combat extremism online, references to the Elders of Zion and to a “Zionist-occupied government” are common on QAnon forums. He said QAnon adherents are latching on to widespread Jewish support for Democrats, especially as the election approaches.

“In terms of Elders of Zion, calling out Hollywood, which tends to be Jewish, calling out specific Jewish congresspeople as pedophiles,” said Feinberg, describing anti-Semitic ideas found in QAnon. “Also, it tends to be that Jewish people align more with Democrats. They use that against us to basically say that Jews are pedophiles.”

Some of QAnon’s supporters are surely aware that they are targeting Jews. But the ideas of harvesting children’s blood and controlling the world through a secret cabal are anti-Semitic even if the growing numbers of QAnon adherents don’t realize it, or don’t directly refer to Jews, Teter said. These ideas are so old and established, she said, that they function as codes for anti-Semitism and obviate the need to mention Jews directly.

“Some of them are using anti-Semitic tropes even though they may not be directly talking about Jews,” she said. “There are a number of elements that they promote that are definitely coming from the vocabulary and from the cauldron, reservoir of anti-Semitic ideas even though they may not be saying directly that Jews are doing it.”

Teter added that these ideas will act as dog whistles for neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites, such that they have the effect of propagating anti-Semitism regardless of their original intent.

“If they are going to mention the whole package of conspiracy, of blood, of media, of money, even without mentioning Jews, you can definitely get that kind of implicit anti-Semitic message about controlling the media, government and whatnot,” she said. “You don’t have to be explicit and then those who know, know.”

The way that QAnon ideas tend to propagate means that large numbers of people are encountering and absorbing anti-Semitic tropes all the time. Feinberg said his research has found that QAnon content across social media platforms is increasingly coming from Telegram, a messaging app that also has open groups where users can see and share public content. That makes the content more easily shareable to mainstream social media platforms than, say, an entry on the extremist message board 8kun, and also gives rise to “a boomerang or circular ecosystem” whereby QAnon ideas move rapidly across platforms with little evidence of their origins.

The fact that certain messages on Telegram are encrypted, and that the company is based outside of the United States and therefore not fully subject to U.S. oversight, also make the messages harder to track, Feinberg said.

“The Rothschilds, all of that Elders of Zion stuff, you can actually search that on Telegram and pick that up,” he said. “They’re using it in this regard especially because Jews tend to be Democrats and they say most of the media is controlled or owned by Jewish people. So they use that against us because they believe Trump is the savior.”

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‘All In: The Fight for Democracy’ director Liz Garbus on learning the Jewish tradition of activism from her famous father

Fri, 2020-09-18 14:59

(JTA) — Star documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus is Jewish, but she’s unfamiliar with the Hebrew term “tikkun olam,” for repairing the world.

“I don’t think in terms of changing the world,” she said. “I think about just one step at a time.”

Her next step is the film “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” on voter suppression, which debuts Friday on Amazon Prime. It explores Stacey Abrams’ run for governor in Georgia in 2018, a race that was marred by charges of voter suppression.

“All In” is far from the first blockbuster documentary for Garbus, 50, daughter of the famed civil rights lawyer Martin Garbus. Some of her other projects include the Academy Award-nominated “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and the Emmy-nominated “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” She also featured some of her father’s work in “Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech.”

Raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Garbus grew up in a largely secular home. Though the family celebrated the High Holidays and she briefly attended Hebrew school, she was not a bat mitzvah. Still, she says, Jewish values of activism were inculcated in her.

“There is a long tradition of Jewish social activism,” Garbus said. “Jewish participation in the civil rights movement with African-Americans is part of it.”

Her father is proud of her accomplishments.

“He talks about it all the time,” Garbus said. “The great thing is that my daughter is politically engaged. I see them talking on the phone on a regular basis. She is the new generation and their conversation is about what it means to defund the police.”

At first Abrams, a longtime Georgia state representative, did not want to appear in the film.

“She wanted a film about voting rights,” Garbus said. “It was not her vision to make it about her [gubernatorial] race. It took us time to show her that it was important [to include her gubernatorial race] to help us tell the story, to place that race into the context of U.S. history.”

“There’s no formula,” she added when asked how she selects her subjects. “It’s about the story. What makes my heart go pitter-patter. Joy. Sadness. Rage.”

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‘Who by fire?’ isn’t just a metaphor this year — but we still have time to change course

Fri, 2020-09-18 14:44

NEW YORK (JTA) — As the founder of a new organization building a Jewish movement to confront the climate crisis, the lead-up to  the High Holidays this year is painfully resonant.

“Who by fire?” the Unetaneh Tokef prayer asks. “Who by water?”

This year, we will recite the prayer amid unprecedented fires, destruction and toxic smoke in the West and flooding in the South, where a series of slow-moving storms have left communities underwater.

Both of these disasters are fueled by climate change and the policies and inaction that continue to make it worse. Most years, the shofar blasts awaken us. This year, we are already painfully awake.

Millions of Americans are living through the unimaginable. Those of us in other parts of the country are pierced by daily images of destruction and surreal statistics. We talk with family, friends and colleagues out West who tell us it is “apocalyptic.” We catch a glimpse of what will soon be our reality — if not by fire then by water, or heat, or drought. The devastation of climate change is not a distant future. It is now. 

During the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we read in the Torah that God gives us the choice of blessing or curse, and enjoins us to choose the path of blessing. 

This is the painful question before us: Now that we are awake, will we choose blessing? Will we put our nation and world on a path of blessing, or will we continue to stand by and watch the curses unfurl? 

Scientists explain that what is happening right now with our climate is the cascade effect, in which a series of quickening trends overlap, triggering and amplifying each other. 

And there is another cascade effect: the painful convergence of the climate-fueled fires, racial justice and COVID-19. The climate crisis does not affect everyone equally. Communities of color and economically marginalized people are overburdened with toxic air and water, heat and lack of access to health care. These challenges are compounded by the fires, disproportionately sickening Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income people and further increasing their risk of contracting the respiratory virus COVID-19. 

We are awake. Half of Americans now rank climate as a top political priority, up from roughly one-third in 2016, and three out of four now describe climate change as either “a crisis” or “a major problem.” The numbers are even higher for Jewish Americans, with 80% saying they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about the climate crisis. 

This year, the sounds of the shofar ask what we will do now that we are awake. How will we commit our lives — our time, our skills, our resources — to the work of redeeming our world? This year, how will we contribute to the creation of a more just, livable and sustainable world for all people for generations to come? 

There is no question that changing our personal behaviors and greening our institutions is necessary. But even if every Jew and Jewish organization reduces its carbon footprint, we will not avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. To do this, we must make change on a systemic level

We can do this in four ways: 

First, we can advocate for common sense policies at the federal, state and local levels that sharply cut demand for energy for coal, oil and gas, mandate aggressive timelines to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions and protect communities most impacted by climate change and other historical inequities. 

Second, we can move our money. We must leverage the power of Jewish institutional investments and pressure banks and other firms that are financing the drilling, mining and burning of fossil fuels. To avoid more climate disasters like mega fires and supercharged storms, we must keep coal, oil and gas underground, where it belongs. 

Third, we can build a movement to confront the climate crisis and change the political landscape. By joining together and showing up when it counts, the Jewish community can bolster broad-based efforts to drastically reduce emissions, create millions of living-wage clean energy jobs and ensure a just transition for workers in polluting industries. 

Finally, we must vote with climate at the front of our minds. Last week, the new Jewish climate organization Dayenu launched Chutzpah2020, mobilizing Jews across the nation to call on elected leaders to have the chutzpah to take big, bold, urgent action to confront the climate crisis and educating and mobilizing voters across the country ahead of Election Day. 

This Rosh Hashanah we are wide awake, and now must each ask ourselves what we will do to put us on a collective path of blessing — one where our actions can begin to avert the evil decree so clearly facing our Earth and everyone on it. 

This year, when we hear the plaintive notes — tekiah, shevarim, teruah — how will we heed the shofar’s call? 

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This Jewish comedian has been helping rabbis nail the delivery on their High Holidays services

Fri, 2020-09-18 14:36

(JTA) — When the pandemic began, Alex Edelman was in the middle of a standup comedy tour of the United Kingdom, where he was performing a show based on his experience crashing a neo-Nazi meetup in Manhattan.

Six months later, the 31-year-old comedian was coaching rabbis about how to add humor and levity to their online High Holidays programming.

“It’s been weird because my eyeball as someone who views TV and programming has become useful religiously, which is really strange,” Edelman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “You never think, ‘I watch a lot of TV. That will really equip me to tell a rabbi how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur should go. But it does.”

Edelman is among a crop of up-and-coming Jewish performers whose careers have been upended by the pandemic — and who have made lemonade by applying their craft to building Jewish community.

A native of suburban Boston and graduate of an Orthodox day school there, Edelman was a creator and head writer of “Saturday Night Seder,” the star-studded Passover spectacular that raised more than $3.5 million for the CDC Foundation in April.

“It was a true insane lightning-in-a-bottle moment,” he recalled. “All of us were craving the togetherness of Pesach, and to be able to have that in this time was … just wonderful.”

So when the opportunity arose — brokered in part by Reboot, the organization that convenes and supports Jewish artists — to help synagogues adapt to the new world of online services, Edelman jumped. In recent weeks he worked with several Los Angeles rabbis planning what are essentially multi-hour television specials, where the content is Jewish liturgy and reflection but the pacing, production values and scripts all borrow from Hollywood.

“They’re having to turn the holidays into programming,” Edelman said. “It’s event-producing now and it’s very strange.”

He said the awe of the holy days cannot be fully communicated through a computer screen.

“But what you can do is create a sense of conversation and togetherness that is so central to the communal experience of any chag,” or holiday, he said.

That meant offering suggestions about where in the program the rabbis should pause to offer words of Torah that would heighten the drama rather than grind it to a halt; how to feature board members or others in the community without having to unmute them during the service; and ways to approximate the in-person connections that would happen in a typical year.

“Do you want to replicate the experience of shul on Rosh Hashanah?” Edelman asked. “Then how about offering five pieces of gossip?”

It didn’t hurt that the consulting generated some income at a time when all live gigs have been canceled. Edelman performed one show this summer outside in Central Park, but otherwise his schedule is empty.

“There’s nothing right now,” he said of the calendar on his website. “Seriously. Usually this page has stuff. It’s just a tough time.”

Edelman enjoyed a bit of a sideshow in recent weeks after he found himself roped into a bitter mayoral race on Long Island. The mayor of Lawrence, New York, is also named Alex Edelman, and this summer he faced a challenge from a real estate developer named Daniel Goldstein who had previously waged quixotic runs for Israel’s Knesset.

Alex Edelman, the comedian, had declined to wade in when he inevitably wound up being tagged on social media with complaints for Alex Edelman, the mayor. But in late August, after the 5 Towns Jewish Times ran an op-ed accusing the mayor of trying to suppress the vote, the comic decided to make a statement.

On Twitter, Edelman posted what he called “an insane statement” that confirmed the allegations.

“I have held this position since my predecessor died under mysterious circumstances in his aboveground pool,” he wrote in a note tapped out on his phone. “I have no intention of relinquishing it.”

To the comedian, the note was clearly a joke, an exaggerated imitation of the kind of statements often made by politicians facing criticism. But that’s not how it was received: Goldstein began circulating the statement on WhatsApp as evidence that the mayor was unfit for office.

“It’s kind of disgusting but don’t get me wrong, it’s also like the funniest thing in the world,” Edelman said. “I’m a bit annoyed at being used as literal fake news, but it’s also very funny.”

The campaign ended this week, with Mayor Edelman securing another term and comedian Edelman another statement.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he quipped on Twitter. “I won with 125 percent of the vote.”

With that saga in the past, Edelman is focused on figuring out how to continue performing at a time when cramped comedy clubs, the most hospitable venue, must remain closed. Exactly what innovations lie ahead he isn’t sure, but he said comedy is a crucial tool for making it through this crisis whole.

“Commentary on what we’re living through is important when we’re not going through something crazy,” he said. “Comedy about the pandemic is even more important.”

This week, Edelman plans to tune into the services offered by IKAR, the nondenominational congregation that he has joined in Los Angeles. (Its founder and rabbi, Sharon Brous, featured prominently in “Saturday Night Seder,” and Edelman said seeing a woman in the pulpit was new for some of the show’s viewers.)

He said he’s looking forward to the searing resonance of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, which wonders who will live and who will die in the year ahead and specifically invokes the specter of plague, and also to finding moments to laugh amid the weightiness of the holiday season.

“You need to keep things light in terms of helping along these services,” Edelman said. “It can’t just be a slog through prayer. We need a touch of humanity to help us along.”

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Hong Kong cosmetics maker features blush named for Anne Frank

Fri, 2020-09-18 14:25

(JTA) — A cosmetics maker in Hong Kong featured a product named for Anne Frank in its online catalog.

The Dream Like Anne liquid blush was part of a line of products by the cosmetics maker, Woke Up Like This, named for women deemed to be inspiring, including Melinda Gates, Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo.

The product was removed from the catalog this week following complaints, the New York Post reported Thursday.

Following complaints that naming the blush for the Holocaust teenage diarist was disrespectful, the Hong Kong edition of the magazine Time Out apologized for an article that featured the product.

“We understand and recognize the insensitivities within this article, and that the inclusion of this product came across as disrespectful of Anne Frank and what she represents,” the apology said. “We sincerely apologize for the distress that this piece has caused.”

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Israel goes into 2nd lockdown to stop record spread of coronavirus

Fri, 2020-09-18 14:07

(JTA) — Thousands of police officers and soldiers in Israel on Friday began imposing the country’s second lockdown due to the coronavirus.

The number of COVID-19 cases has skyrocketed to record levels in recent weeks.

The lockdown, which went into effect Friday and is the first time that a Western country has imposed a second nationwide confinement order, is scheduled to last until Oct. 2 at the earliest.

Police have set up 38 roadblocks and checkpoints in an operation they are calling “Triumphant Responsibility.”

Pedestrian and vehicular traffic in large cities, including Jerusalem, was normal just before the lockdown went into effect at 2 p.m. local time, Ynet reported, because residents had stocked up on supplies in the days before the lockdown, which was announced over a week ago.

Its first day coincides with the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the first of the High Holidays. The High Holiday season, including Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, ends on Oct. 11.

During the lockdown, residents are required to stay within 1,000 yard of their homes and refrain from staying at other homes or beaches, except for exercise. A maximum of 10 people may gather in closed spaces, including synagogues, and 20 in open ones as long as they adhere to social distancing protocol. Schools are shut down except for special education institutions.

Employees who cannot perform their professional duties remotely may travel to work but cannot receive non-employees there.

Restaurants may provide takeout orders but are closed to the public, as are swimming pools, gyms and theaters. Pharmacies and supermarkets will remain open.

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Polish parliament votes to ban $1.8 billion industry of kosher and halal meat for export

Fri, 2020-09-18 13:54

(JTA) — Poland has moved a step closer to terminating its $1.8 billion industry of kosher and halal meat for export — one day after a parliamentary committee had removed language about a ban in an animal rights bill.

On Thursday night, the parliament’s lower house, the Sejm, voted in favor of the Law on Animal Protection. Among the 460 lawmakers, 375 backed the measure. The text on the ban was reintroduced, Tok FM reported.

The bill must still pass the Senate to go into effect.

The law, whose final text has not been published, bans the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. There is an exception for meat produced for the needs of religious minorities in Poland, according to the PAP news agency.

Meat producers affected by the ban will be compensated by the government, which will also determine the precise conditions of who may conduct slaughter without stunning, the law says.

Jaroslaw Kaczysnki, a leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, authored the legislation, which also bans breeding animals for fur and their use in circus shows.

Poland has fewer than 20,000 Jews and a similarly sized Muslim minority but is nonetheless a major exporter of kosher and halal meat.

Opponents of slaughter without stunning, which is a prerequisite for halal and kosher meat, say its cruel. Proponents of the practice say its relatively painless.

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Adelsons pledge up to $50 million in final Trump campaign push, according to report

Fri, 2020-09-18 13:38

(JTA) — Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, the pro-Israel philanthropists and major Republican givers, will spend up to $50 million in a final weeks campaign push for President Donald Trump, CNBC reported.

The casino magnate and his physician spouse are consulting with the Trump campaign about where to spend the money, the report said.

Trump is trailing his rival, Joe Biden, in fundraising and a Biden ally, former New York mayor and media mogul Mike Bloomberg, has pledged $100 million in the critical swing state of Florida.

The report of Adelson’s pledge comes after reports that Trump berated Sheldon Adelson for not stepping up and helping him in the final part of the campaign. Trump has shifted Israel policy to the right-wing postures favored by the Adelsons and has awarded Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her medical philanthropy.

The Trump campaign has meantime accelerated its Jewish outreach, this week launching Jewish Voices for Trump as its official campaign Jewish outreach body. Its board includes the Adelsons; conservative radio host Mark Levin’s wife, Julie Strauss Levin; investment executive Wayne Berman; and Boris Epshteyn, a top adviser to the campaign.

The Biden campaign has had a Jewish outreach operation for months. This week, Epshteyn challenged the Biden campaign’s Jewish outreach director, Aaron Keyak, to a debate.

Both campaigns and their allies are focused on getting out the Jewish vote, particularly in Florida, in what is expected to be a tight race.

The Trump campaign launched an ad this week celebrating the normalization agreements signed this week between Israel and two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Trump brokered the deal, and the ad includes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying at the White House lawn ceremony, “I am grateful to you, President Trump, for your decisive leadership.”

Trump also mentioned the deal in the Rosh Hashanah greetings statement he issued Friday.

“This year’s High Holy Days come with a sense of optimism for the people of Israel, as my Administration continues to make great strides in securing a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful Middle East region,” the statement said.

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The Bidens tell Jewish supporters the new Jewish year will be happier with Trump out

Thu, 2020-09-17 22:06

(JTA) — Jill and Joe Biden greeted Jewish supporters for the Jewish New Year and cast the holy day’s message as an imperative to drive President Donald Trump from office.

It was the second New Year’s greetings-turned-pitch for votes of the season. Trump made his own appeal Wednesday during a White House call to Jewish supporters.

“These are the Days of Awe that give us a chance to restart, to speak up,” the Democratic presidential nominee said Thursday in a webcast organized by Jewish Americans for Biden, an arm of his campaign. “What kind of country do we wish to be? Both of our faiths, yours and mine, instruct us not to ignore what’s around us.”

Biden, a Roman Catholic, noted the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, the social unrest over racism and the economy. “A common thread between them is a president who makes things worse, who appeals to the dark side of us,” Biden said.

Biden launched his campaign for the presidency last year he said because he was appalled at what he said were Trump’s equivocations in condemning deadly racist and anti-Semitic violence.

Biden’s wife, Jill, an educator, quoted the 19th-century rabbi, Yisrael Salanter, who founded the Jewish ethical movement, Musar. “As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter taught, ‘as long as the candle is still burning, it is still possible to accomplish and to mend’,” she said. “I hope these days of awe renew your spirit for these days ahead.”

Joe Biden, who has pushed back at progressives within his party who want to step up criticism of Israel, said, “we can pursue peace in the world including by remaining a steadfast ally of Israel.”

He concluded, “Shana Tova everyone, we can do this, it’s got to be a better year than last year.”

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Taffy Brodesser-Akner to write screenplay on rabbi who tortured Orthodox men to get religious divorces

Thu, 2020-09-17 21:10

(JTA) — Novelist and journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner will write the screenplay for an upcoming film called “The Get,” based on Matt Shaer’s 2014 article in GQ about a rabbi who tries to coerce Orthodox men to give their wives religious divorces through questionable methods.

The controversial Rabbi Mendel Epstein was determined to procure Jewish divorces for the observant women — in Jewish law, the “get” is in the hands of their husbands — and went to some bizarre ends. Shaer reported that Epstein kidnapped, beat and even used cattle prods on their testicles as persuaders. He wound up in jail.

“Out of all the stories I’ve written in the past decade, the GQ feature on Mendel Epstein was one of my favorites,” Shaer said in a statement reported by Variety. “That’s partly because of the world in which it is set — a world most Americans are unfamiliar with — and partly because the themes are so fashion naming and resonate.

“When it comes to a figure like Epstein, where should we draw the line between criminal and hero? And who, exactly, gets to make the distinction — the secular criminal justice system or the families that count themselves in Epstein’s debt?”

Brodesser-Akner, The New York Times journalist and author of the best-selling novel “Fleishman Is In Trouble,” said the subject matter “is extremely close to my heart.”

“My family is ultra-Orthodox,” she told Variety, “and I’ve seen women close to me whose lives and plans have been derailed by the arcane and dangerous law that men possess the singular power to end a marriage, a state of affairs that tests some of their most abusive tendencies.”

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