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How Netanyahu‘s cozy relationship with the Saudi crown prince could cost Israel

Tue, 2018-11-13 22:16

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 19, 2017. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Saudi Arabia is in hot water because its agents murdered a journalist, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking the West not to throw away the kingdom’s prince.

It’s a major ask — one that could get Netanyahu and his nation in their own tepid tub.

The problem facing Israel was evident in a piece published Sunday in The Washington Post by Jackson Diehl, a columnist whom Israeli officials have in the past trusted to be fair and sensitive to the country’s concerns.

“Why is Israel tossing a lifeline to Jamal Khashoggi’s killers?” the headline read for an essay that ripped Netanyahu.

“The spectacle of an Israeli leader lobbying to excuse an Arab dictator for murder will only compound the damage he has done to his country’s relationship with the United States,” Diehl wrote.

Khashoggi, who was assassinated last month in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, voiced his dissent with the Saudi regime as a Washington Post columnist. Diehl, like others at the paper, would be more naturally inclined than others to express outrage at any attempt to whitewash the Saudi regime.

But Diehl’s warning was substantive: JTA has learned that Democrats in Congress — the party has just wrested control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Republicans — are furious with Netanyahu for being among the few leaders to publicly defend the regime as evidence mounts that Khashoggi was killed on orders from above.

“What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with,” Netanyahu said Nov. 2 at an event in Varna, Bulgaria. “Yet the same time I say it, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remains stable.”

The question at the heart of the Khashoggi murder is whether the country’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, directly ordered the hit. The prince has denied it vehemently to President Donald Trump, who has tended to give bin Salman the benefit of the doubt. Middle East hands wonder how such a sophisticated assassination could have been carried out without bin Salman’s OK.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that one of the alleged hitmen instructed a superior to “tell your boss” that the job was done; the “boss” is assumed to be bin Salman.

Netanyahu’s investment in Saudi Arabia goes beyond the country’s stability. He is particularly close to bin Salman, as is Trump.

“I think the administration, when they know all the facts, are going to have to decide how can they on the one hand make clear that this action is unacceptable, but also not throw out the prince with the bathwater, let’s put it that way,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, perhaps Netanyahu’s closest adviser, said earlier this month at a synagogue event in Houston.

The key to understanding Netanyahu’s positioning is the enemy that Israel and the Saudis share: Iran.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Oct. 23, 2018. The summit was overshadowed by the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

“It’s a tightrope act for Netanyahu right now,” Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in an interview. “For him and for Israel, there is a question of who will fight Iran’s regional aggression other than Israel. The Saudis have assumed that role. They have the eastern flank of the Middle East, Israel has the west.”

Another factor is Netanyahu’s strategy of seeking broader acceptance in the Middle East absent substantive progress in any peace deal with the Palestinians, Schanzer said.

“This is an opportunity for him to publicly come out and not overtly state that there are ties between Israel and the Saudis, but certainly to imply it, and to show the Arab world Israel can be an ally,” he said.

The cost, said Aaron David Miller, a top Middle East negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents, is to Israel’s reputation.

“The Israelis have to be very careful that they should not become MbS’s lawyer in Washington,” said Miller, using bin Salman’s nickname. Miller is now the vice president of The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

While Netanyahu and his predecessors naturally tended toward an interests-based foreign policy, Miller said, “It’s very bad for Israel’s image and credibility to be cavorting with a regime that is killing and murdering its dissenters on the streets of Arab capitals or European capitals.”

The immediate cost may be in how responsive the new Democratic House is to the pro-Israel agenda. In the immediate future, defense assistance will remain untouched, but Democrats would likely be less inclined to back the feel-good declarative statements that are often the bread and butter of pro-Israel lobbyists. That, in the long run, could erode overall support in the party for Israel.

An accelerant to the bad will among Democrats is that Netanyahu appears to be propping up Saudi Arabia as a means of pleasing Trump, who is the bete noir of the party and of liberals more than any other Republican leader.

“They’re looked at as if they’re coming out in support of a Trump ally,” said Schanzer.

The post How Netanyahu‘s cozy relationship with the Saudi crown prince could cost Israel appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Deborah Lipstadt wrote a new book on anti-Semitism. Then Pittsburgh happened.

Tue, 2018-11-13 21:13

Deborah Lipstadt, author of the forthcoming book “Antisemitism Here and Now,” says the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting reaffirmed her warnings. (Osnat Perelshtein)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The advance copies of Deborah Lipstadt’s new book, “Antisemitism Here and Now,” display a cover photo of white supremacist carrying a tiki torch.

But that iconic image of the August 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, could now be replaced by another one: Police tape cordoning off the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. Or perhaps the row of cut-out stars displaying the names of that massacre’s 11 victims.

“Antisemitism,” written earlier this year and due out in February, offers a concise and comprehensive overview of the various forms of Jew-hatred that have reappeared or intensified during the past few years. And before Pittsburgh, there already was plenty to write about: anti-Semitic attacks in Europe; the “alt-right” in the U.S.; the persistence of Holocaust revisionism and denial; whether and when criticism of Israel qualifies as anti-Semitic; and of course Charlottesville.

Then the shooting happened. For Lipstadt, the renowned Holocaust historian and Emory University professor, the tragedy in Pittsburgh was both a surprise and a reaffirmation of her warnings.

Lipstadt, 71, spoke with JTA in New York City on Monday about what the Pittsburgh shooting means for American Jews and how Jews should fight anti-Semitism. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: What are your thoughts about the book following Pittsburgh?

Lipstadt: I wasn’t surprised by Pittsburgh, but I was shocked. I wasn’t surprised because I kept saying something’s going to happen in our country, and had been happening.

It would be easy to say everything changes after Pittsburgh, and I do think everything changed for Jews, for synagogues. Any synagogue board that in the past 10 days hasn’t met to discuss security operations is crazy. That’s the new normal.

We had one incident, a horrible incident — it doesn’t characterize our whole country — but it is disturbing. I tell the story, the one I end the book with, of walking into shul with a little friend who’s now 6 1/2, and her mother said, “Say thank you to the police officer for keeping us safe.”

She’s going to figure it out soon enough. She’ll look across the street at the church dead opposite our shul and there are no police officers there. How do you recognize a shul now if you don’t know exactly what the number is or what the cross street is? Look for the police officers. Kids recognize that.

There will be kids who say what do I want to go to Hillel for? There will be parents who will say, you know what? Why should I take my kid to a place where there’s danger?

In your book, you focus largely on people who enable or minimize anti-Semitism, as opposed to hardcore anti-Semites themselves. Why is that?

It’s “farfaln” [Yiddish, roughly, for “a lost cause”] to try to change those people. I could write about David Duke from here until the cows come. I’m not going to change David Duke’s mind. We all know David Duke is a lowlife of the first order, but it’s the people who might be influenced by David Duke who I want to reach.

Farrakhan, he’s a disgusting excuse for a human being. But it’s the people around him, Linda Sarsour, [Women’s March co-chair] Tamika Mallory, who have the voice of the press, who are listened to. They’re enablers. The enablers are much more dangerous to me than the people we recognize.

On some level, it’s the non-Hitlerian kind of anti-Semite, the one who doesn’t quite present as an anti-Semite, who’s much more dangerous because that’s the person who’s going to have access to the public.

How do you view Linda Sarsour’s activism and fundraising on behalf of Jewish causes, and her collaborations with progressive Jewish groups?

There are lots of people who proclaim they’re against anti-Semitism — “Pittsburgh? Terrible!” Linda Sarsour, you know. At the same time, on the other side of her mouth, she’s talking about don’t humanize Israel and when you wear a Jewish star it makes me feel unsafe. She’s talking out of two sides of her mouth.

I don’t trust people like that. One of the reasons I’m particularly not trusting of someone like that is that there are so many Jews on the left who come so cheap. They wrote me, “Look, Linda Sarsour criticized Pittsburgh, look, she’s helped to rebuild a cemetery,” etc. Give me a break. Anyone who’s not going to criticize what happened in Pittsburgh … someone gets credit? OK, so she’s raising money to help rebuild a cemetery, that’s very nice. But at the same time she’s making awful statements about Jews. Not just about Zionists but about Jews.

Farrakhan, he called Jews termites, and Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory and leaders of the Women’s March are embracing him and praising him. He called us termites. How much more do you need?

On the right, is a person with 50 Twitter followers who sends a meme something we really need to be concerned about?

If it were one person with 50 followers I’d say let’s get a life. But it’s not one person with 50 followers. It’s 500 people with 50 followers and one of them with a thousand and another, like a Richard Spencer, who figures out how to take those 50 and 50 and 50 and turn them into something more acceptable and more mainstream.

It’s a ripple effect. The internet can be a weapon or it can be a great tool for connecting people. Given that we now have the internet, given that these right-wingers have learned how to use it, they have a tool they didn’t have before.

The thing that really galvanized it was, of course, having a president who — I don’t know if Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, I doubt that he’s an anti-Semite. But that’s the wrong question to ask. The question to ask is, does he enable anti-Semites?

[Lipstadt then refers to anti-Semitic abuse from Trump supporters directed toward reporter Julia Ioffe, who wrote a critical profile of Melania Trump in 2016.]

That would have been the moment for him to look straight into the camera and say, “Listen, this is not how I want to win the presidency. This is not what America is about.” Instead he said “I have no message for them.” [Trump told CNN, “I don’t have a message for the fans.”]

You have a president who glorifies violence. You have this violence, this glorification of violence. You put it together with white nationalism, white supremacy. At the heart of that white nationalism is a deep-seated anti-Semitism.

You criticize activists who lead the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, against Israel. But could you explain why you also have harsh words for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who they oppose?

Bibi has done a number of things. First of all, his welcoming and embrace of [Hungarian prime minister] Viktor Orban, who has been pushing this Soros imagery [billboards criticizing the liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros] and cracking down on the Jewish community of Budapest in a horrible, horrible way.

No. 2, what happened with the critics of BDS and that policy of keeping them out [of Israel]. Not only is it antithetical to Israel being a democracy, but it steals us of our best argument against BDS. BDS says “shut down the conversation, don’t bring anybody who might disagree with you,” and we say “no, open up the conversation.”

Most of all, the Polish law [criminalizing blaming Poles for collaborating with the Holocaust]. When the Polish law came out, Israel was appalled and was absolutely critical of Poland for this law. But then they announced with great fanfare, with Bibi at the table, we’ve worked things out with Poland, and Poland is changing the law so that it’s not as offensive.

What they had done is essentially changed the punishment from criminal to civil, but at the same time taken away protections for professors and artists.

This bending to Poland on this law was realpolitik. Bibi did it because he wants Orban in Hungary and whoever’s leading the Polish government at the moment, and Austria, to be his friends. Now you can say that’s realpolitik, but don’t do that and then claim Israel is the primary spokesperson and the address for fighting world anti-Semitism when you have coddled an anti-Semite like Orban, when you have made room for a soft-core Holocaust denial law like the Polish law. When you’re talking about anti-Semitism, there’s a red line.

You criticize people on both left and right, anti-Israel activists and the Israeli prime minister. Do you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle trying to carve out space in the middle?

I call it as I see it. If I thought it was a losing battle I probably wouldn’t do it.

I think there are a lot of Jews who feel like I do. I think there are a lot of Jews who will read half the book and remember half the book, who will be appalled when I’m putting down the right and love it when I’m putting down the left and be appalled when I’m putting down the left and love it when I’m putting down the [right].

I’m not out to win a popularity contest. I hope I’m not a voice crying out into the dark. I didn’t write the book to convince people who already know what they think. If the book makes people a little bit uncomfortable, and makes them reassess where they are and what they’re doing and where they see things, that’s good, too.

So what should we do to fight anti-Semitism?

I compare anti-Semitism to herpes. For most of the time we’ve had herpes, it couldn’t be cured. And if you were suddenly under stress, boom, up would come a herpes infection. Anti-Semitism is like herpes. When a society is under stress, it appears.

I would say the following things: They won’t cure it, but at least it might help alleviate it.

Don’t see anti-Semitism only on the other side of the political transom from which you are located. All these Jews on the left who suddenly, when Trump was running, saw anti-Semitism on the right and began to get all upset about that. And they weren’t wrong. But they had a patch on.

All those people on the right who are now saying Pittsburgh was a one-off, but we really should be worried about BDS. Of course we should be worried about BDS, but if you’re on the right you can have a conversation with those people. If you’re on the left you can try to have a conversation with those people.

If you’re only seeing it on the opposite side of the transom, you’re instrumentalizing this for political purposes.

I call for civil society. It used to be we could take our lead from government and leadership. We can’t. So it becomes incumbent on civil society to take a role.

A healthy democratic society cannot tolerate anti-Semitism and racism. If that is festering in its midst, it says something is unhealthy about the society. It’s not just Jews for whom this is dangerous. This should terrify you. Because if this is happening to Jews, it may start with the Jews but it doesn’t end with the Jews.

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Hate crimes against Jews rise by 37%, FBI reports

Tue, 2018-11-13 20:22

(JTA) — Hate crimes against Jews in America rose by more than a third last year and accounted for 58 percent of all religion-based hate crimes, according to data released Tuesday by the FBI.

Overall, hate crimes increased by 17 percent in 2017, the data showed. with 7,175 hate crimes reported, up from 6,121 in 2016. Some of the increase may be because more police departments are reporting their hate crimes data to the FBI than ever before, 6 percent above the previous year.

The number of hate crimes based on religion is the second highest ever, behind only 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The report noted a 23 percent increase in religion-based hate crimes in 2017 to 1,564, representing about 20 percent of all hate crimes.

There were a total of 938 hate crimes committed against Jews in 2017, up from 684 in 2016.

In addition, some 58 percent of all hate crimes in 2017 were based on race, including 28 percent against African-Americans. There was also a 5 percent rise in crimes directed against LGBT individuals, to 1,130 in 2017 from 1,076 the previous year.

More than 4,000 crimes in 2017 were against people, including threats, intimidation, assault and murder. More than 3,000 were crimes against property, such as vandalism, robbery, and arson.

The report covered jurisdictions in 49 states and the District of Columbia, the FBI said. At least 92 cities with populations of more than 100,000 either did not report any data to the FBI or reported zero hate crimes.

In 1990, Congress passed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which required the U.S. attorney general to collect data “about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents for 2017, which includes both criminal and non-criminal acts, found that anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017, the largest single year increase on record and the second highest reported since ADL started to keep track in 1979.

“Two weeks ago, we witnessed the most deadly anti-Semitic hate crime in American history,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, referring to the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 worshippers dead. “Today, we have another FBI study showing a big jump in hate crimes against Americans because of their race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

“This report provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America. That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs.”

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Palestinian terror groups say they will observe cease-fire

Tue, 2018-11-13 17:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian terror groups in Gaza reportedly have agreed to commit to a cease-fire of hostilities that have seen more than 400 rockets bombard southern Israel and Israeli retaliation in a 25-hour period.

Four mediators — Egypt, the United Nations, Norway and Switzerland — helped achieve the cease-fire, according to reports.

The Palestinian terror groups said in a joint statement, according to reports, that they are “committed to the cease-fire as long as Israel doesn’t break it and doesn’t attack the Palestinian people.”

A cease-fire reportedly had been negotiated to go into effect earlier Tuesday afternoon, but rockets continued to be fired from Gaza. Since the announcement by the Gaza groups, rockets have not been fired.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told the local media that “Israel maintains its right to act.”

“Requests from Hamas for a cease-fire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide” whether there will be a cease-fire, the official said.

The announcement came shortly after Israel’s Security Cabinet emerged from a seven-hour meeting and released a short statement saying that the Israel Defense Forces was instructed to “continue its strikes as needed.” Four government ministers were reported to be opposed to a cease-fire, the Israeli media reported, naming them as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party; Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party; Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Jewish Home; and Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin of the Likud party.

Among the some 460 rockets fired by Palestinian factions in Gaza, more than 100 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF struck 160 targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations, as well as four government installations used for military purposes. Several of the targets were six- and seven-story buildings, which had “a very significant effect on the other side,” a senior Air Force officer said in an IDF statement.

One person was killed and dozens injured in the rocket attacks from Gaza, and several homes and buildings were hit by the rockets. Seven Palestinians were reported killed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza terror sites.

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Here’s what it costs to put your synagogue under armed guard

Tue, 2018-11-13 16:48

A police officer stands guard outside Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, Nov. 2, 2018. The synagogue is a half mile away from the Tree of Life Congregation, which was attacked by a lone gunman less than a week earlier. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — After a mass shooting in a heavily Jewish area shocked the nation, Rabbi Yakov Saacks felt like his Long Island congregation was at risk.

So the rabbi installed 17 cameras on the synagogue’s exterior that can zoom in to read numbers on license plates, as well as indoor cameras at each entrance. He began covering the windows with Kevlar, at around $800 each, making them shatterproof in case vandals hit them with rocks. And he hired armed security guards to protect the Hebrew school and Shabbat services.

When the sanctuary is especially crowded — on the High Holidays, for example — as many as three guards will patrol the building carrying guns and communicating by radio.

That was after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, nearly nine months ago. Following the attack last month on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Saacks said he feels vindicated in beefing up security. And he’s not done. In addition to protecting the rest of his windows, he is planning to install a metal detector at the building entrance as well as a double-door vestibule called a “mantrap.”

“What can we do? What can we do?” said Saacks, whose Chabad synagogue, the Chai Center, occupies an acre and a half in the upscale suburb of Dix Hills. “This doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t warm your heart. We still try and maintain its openness, but what happened in Pittsburgh can happen anywhere.”

The added measures have changed Saacks’ budget, of course. He estimates that all of the physical protections will cost $150,000 in total. That does not include some of the window and camera costs, which he paid for partly out of a $50,000 grant from New York state. And the armed guards, contracted from a private security company at $40 an hour each, cost about $360 per week.

It’s a cost more synagogues are considering after a gunman entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and killed 11 worshippers. Since that shooting, the risk of a violent attack has felt all too real for synagogues.

Thomas Ruskin, who runs the CMP Group, a private security company, already provides security for a handful of Jewish institutions in the New York City area. Since the Pittsburgh shooting, he says, dozens more have inquired about his services.

“Part of this has to do with the religious organizations’ budgets,” said Ruskin, a former New York police officer who is Jewish. “They’ve never put money aside or had a fund for just this purpose. … We never really had to worry about this. We always knew there was anti-Semitism, but we never knew someone would come into a shul in an upscale suburban community and shoot people in their backs.”

Ruskin charges $500-$1,000 for a written threat assessment and security recommendations; the price is deducted off the final cost if Ruskin’s team is hired to provide security.

For more than a decade, the federal government has provided funding to help synagogues bolster their security. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program and a related program run by the Department of Homeland Security have provided a total of more than $269 million to secure houses of worship and other institutions.

The money has gone largely to Jewish institutions, according to the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, which lobbies for the grants. In addition, in October 2017, New York state announced $25 million in grants to help secure private schools and other nonprofits. Rounds of funding awarded this year in Brooklyn and Long Island went largely to Jewish organizations.

Since 2004, Jewish institutions have received resources and guidance from the Secure Community Network, an organization co-founded by the Jewish Federations of North America that oversees the community’s security needs and liaises with law enforcement. Paul Goldenberg, the network’s former chief, said that a close relationship with local law enforcement can help synagogues be prepared when attacks happen.

He cautioned against turning houses of worship into fortresses, noting that many synagogues in Europe have an intense security presence along with tight restrictions on who can enter and exit.

“Security has come with a tremendous cost to the Jewish community, not only here but abroad,” said Goldenberg, now a senior fellow for the Rutgers University Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience. “Our institutions should not be surrounded by copper tin wire and bars.”

Still, some synagogues are opting for private security on-site. A consortium of 30 Chabad congregations on Long Island hopes to raise $1 million to provide armed guards once a week for a period of three years at an estimated cost of $50 an hour.

The Community Security Service, a Jewish nonprofit founded in 2007, has trained 4,000 volunteer security guards for synagogues, teaching them how to spot and respond to threats. (Courtesy of CSS)

Union Temple, a Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, decided to increase its security after it was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti this month. It has hired a second security guard and is requiring visitors to sign in and show ID. It is also making its windows shatterproof.

“We want to be warm and welcoming, we don’t want to live in a police state, but that’s the line you have to find,” said Union Temple President Beatrice Hanks. “The parents have been most concerned about this. … They’d rather be slowed down at the drop-off than not have security.”

Other synagogues have opted for volunteer security guards recruited from their own pews. The Community Security Service, a Jewish nonprofit founded in 2007, has trained 4,000 volunteer security guards for synagogues, teaching them how to spot and respond to threats. Jason Friedman, its executive director, estimates that 75 of its trainees are actively guarding their synagogues on any given week. For a synagogue with 500 member units, CSS asks for a suggested donation of $1,800.

Even if synagogues opt for a paid guard, he said, a community member should accompany them in order to help identify congregants and provide a reassuring face at the door for the people who are supposed to be there.

“Everyone in the Jewish community is thinking about security now,” said Friedman, who has also received a flurry of inquiries since the Pittsburgh shooting. “That couldn’t be said a few weeks ago. If their options are a guard or nothing, definitely go with the guard, but you have to give that guard a chance to be successful. That means pairing them with someone from your institution.”

Romemu, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Manhattan, has gone all in on security in the weeks since the Pittsburgh shooting. In addition to increasing the number and hours of its armed guards (the congregation’s executive director, Jeff Cahn, did not want to specify those figures), it has tripled its security budget and plans to apply for the state and federal security grants.

To maintain a friendly exterior, however, the congregation makes sure its security guards dress in business-casual attire, don’t conspicuously show their weapons and greet regulars as an usher would.

“They are not menacing. They are very friendly people,” Cahn said. “They welcome everybody with a hearty ‘Shabbat shalom’ and know everybody’s names. They are part of our family.”

Even without armed guards, Ruskin said, there are basic steps a synagogue should take to secure itself, from locking the doors to having an evacuation plan. If a shooter encounters a locked door — let alone an armed guard — he may decide to go somewhere else, Ruskin said. And building staff should know some basic pieces of information — like the building’s address.

“When you have to call the police, 911, you need to know your address,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many educators, staff, even clergy don’t know the address.”

Synagogues may forgo an armed guard in order to maintain a welcoming atmosphere. Many were put off by President Donald Trump’s initial comments on the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, which did not have a guard.

“If they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” Trump told reporters. “Isn’t it a shame that we even have to think of that, inside of a temple or inside a church? But certainly the results might have been far better.”

The Chai Center in Dix Hills, N.Y., has installed a range of security protections, from reinforced windows to an armed guard. (Dovid Weinbaum)

Critics charged that Trump was blaming the synagogue to deflect from the gun control debate, although it was the rare synagogue that didn’t start thinking about its security in the days that followed.

Still, some activists say that while having armed security makes some congregants feel safer, it may make others feel under threat.

“Investing in increased police presence and security will militarize our community spaces,” reads a statement by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a progressive activist group. “It will make synagogues and Jewish communal spaces less safe for Jews of color, trans Jews, Jews with disabilities, and other beloved members of our communities.”

But those who are hiring the guards see security as a threshold issue.

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, who is spearheading the $1 million campaign, said that after the Pittsburgh shooting, he wants to make sure one of his affiliate synagogues isn’t next.

“They want to know there’s someone there who’s going to be watching out for them,” he said. “You need to have someone there who’s on the ground. We want to put up a sign in every Chabad house that this is not a soft target. There are armed guards here.”

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In Holland, one of the world’s most expensive Hanukkah menorahs hides in plain sight

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:54

Despite its humble appearance, The Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum’s Nieuwenhuys menorah is worth more than many of the city’s houses. (Courtesy of the the Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Nothing about the appearance of object MB02280 at this city’s Jewish Historical Museum suggests it is the capital’s priciest Hanukkah menorah, worth more than the average local price of a duplex home.

Shaped like the body of a violin, it is only 16 inches tall. Its base cradles eight detachable oil cups intended to function as candles on Hanukkah, when Jews light candles to commemorate a 167 BCE revolt against the Greeks. They are set against the menorah’s smooth, reflective surface, whose edges boast elaborate rococo reliefs.

But for all its charms, the Nieuwenhuys menorah — its creator was the non-Jewish silversmith Harmanus Nieuwenhuys — doesn’t stand out from the other menorahs on display next to it at the museum. Far from the oldest one there, the menorah certainly doesn’t look like it’s worth its estimated price of $450,000.

The Nieuwenhuys menorah can hide in plain sight because its worth owes “more to its story than to its physical characteristics,” said Irene Faber, the museum’s collections curator.

Made in 1751 for an unidentified Jewish patron, the Nieuwenhuys menorah’s story encapsulates the checkered history of Dutch Jewry. And it is tied to the country’s royal family, as well as a Jewish war hero who gave his life for his country and his name to one of its most cherished tourist attractions.

The price tag of the Nieuwenhuys menorah, which does not have an official name, is roughly known because a very similar menorah made by the same silversmith fetched an unprecedented $441,000 at a 2016 auction. A collector who remained anonymous clinched it at the end of an unexpected bidding war that made international news. It was initially expected to fetch no more than $15,000.

Another reason for the more vigorous bidding: The menorah came from the collection of the Maduros, a well-known Portuguese Jewish family that produced one of Holland’s most celebrated war heroes. The Nazis murdered George Maduro at the Dachau concentration camp after they caught him smuggling downed British pilots back home. In 1952, his parents built in his memory one of Holland’s must-see tourist attractions: the Madurodam, a miniature city.

“I imagine the connection to the Maduro family drove up the price,” said Nathan Bouscher, the director of the Corinphila Auctions house south of Amsterdam, which has handled items connected with famous Dutch Jews.

Besides the menorah on display at the Jewish Historical Museum, the Netherlands has another very expensive one in the Rintel Menorah: A 4-footer that the Jewish Historical Museum bought last year for a whopping $563,000. Far more ostentatious than the modest-looking Nieuwenhuys menorah, the Rintel, from 1753, is made of pure silver and weighs several kilograms. It is currently on loan to the Kroller-Muller Museum 50 miles east of Amsterdam.

The Jewish Historical Museum has no intention of selling the Nieuwenhuys, Faber said, although it could attract even more spectacular bids owing to its provenance: It was bought by the late queen of the Netherlands, Wilhelmina, as a gift for her mother and given to the museum by her grandson, King Willem-Alexander.

“We don’t know who commissioned the work, but from the reputation of the artist and the amount of labor it took, it was probably a wealthy Jewish family, perhaps of Sephardic descent,” Faber told JTA last week at the museum.

At the center of the object is a round network of arabesque-like decorations “that probably contains the owner’s initials in a monogram,” Faber said, “but we haven’t been able to decipher it. It’s a riddle.”

The monogram was one of several techniques that Nieuwenhuys and other Christian silversmiths in the Netherlands had developed for their rich Jewish clients.

Before the 19th century, no Jews were allowed to smith silver in the Netherlands because they were excluded from the Dutch silversmiths guilds, which were abolished in the 1800s.

“This exclusion was beneficial [to the guild] because it kept out competition, but it meant that Christian smiths needed to become experts at making Jewish religious artifacts like this menorah,” Faber said.

Works like the menorah on display at the museum illustrate how some Jewish customers clearly were art lovers with sophisticated tastes.

Whereas the Maduro menorah was symmetrical with Baroque highlights, the Nieuwenhuys is asymmetrical with rococo characteristics that were “pretty avant-garde for its time,” Faber said. The smooth surfaces are “another bold choice, showing finesse,” she added.

Whoever owned the menorah no longer possessed it by 1907, when Queen Wilhelmina bought it for an unknown price at an auction to give it as a gift to her mother, Princess Emma.

This purchase may appear inconsequential to a contemporary observer, but its significance becomes evident when examined against the backdrop of institutionalized anti-Semitism among other European royal houses and governments.

The German Emperor Wilhelm II, a contemporary of Wilhelmina, was a passionate anti-Semite who famously said in 1925 that “Jews and mosquitoes are a nuisance that humankind must get rid of some way or another,” adding “I believe the best way is Gas.”

Belgium’s King Leopold III was more politically correct, stating magnanimously in 1942 that he has “no personal animosity” toward Jews, but declaring them nonetheless “a danger” to his country. He raised no objections when the Germans and their collaborators began deporting Belgian Jews to their deaths.

In countless wartime broadcasts, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands rallied the Dutch but mentioned Jews only three times. (National Archive of the Netherlands)

But in the Netherlands, where thousands of Jews found haven after fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition of the 16th century, royals not only refrained from such statements but were genuinely “interested in other faiths, including the Jewish one,” Faber said.

Wilhelmina’s gifting of a menorah to her mother “isn’t strange for her,” Faber said. “I imagine she found it fun, something to talk about with her mother, to see together how it works.” After all, “Jews have always been under the protection of the Royal House.”

Except, that is, during the years 1940-45, when Queen Wilhelmina and the Royal House fled to the United Kingdom. Wilhelmina mentioned the suffering of her Jewish subjects only three times in her radio speeches to the Dutch people during five years of exile.

Whereas before the war “Jews always sought the Royal House,” during and after “it appeared Wilhelmina didn’t think too much about the Jews,” Faber said. This was “a stain” on relations between Dutch Jews and the Royal House, which underwent a “rupture.”

But this was gradually healed in the postwar years.

The fact that King Willem-Alexander, Wilhelmina’s great-grandson, in 2012 gave the Nieuwenhuys menorah on an open-ended loan to the Jewish museum on its 90th anniversary “symbolizes the healing of the rupture,” Faber said.

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Recipes from Tel Aviv win Holland’s best cookbook award

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:45

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A book of recipes from Tel Aviv won first prize in the Netherlands’ national competition for new contributions in the cookbook genre.

“TLV — Recipes and Stories from Tel Aviv,” by the Dutch-Jewish author and journalist Jigal Krant, was declared on Friday as this year’s winner of The Golden Cookbook Award among the five finalists. The competition started with 64 submissions of cookbooks published in Dutch this year.

Janny van der Heijden, the chairwoman of the five-judge panel, said Krant’s book “teaches, pleases and entertains” its readers.

“It’s a cookbook, good reading material and a travel guide,” she said.

In his book, Krant explains that “Tel Aviv is a progressive city in a conservative region. A melting pot where many cuisines fuse. In an area where religious rules often determines what end up on the table, Tel Aviv has an innovative and free cuisine with no rules.”

Many of the recipes in Krant’s book are classic dishes served in Tel Aviv cafes and restaurants, such as green shakshuka, roasted eggplant with tahini, various hummus dishes and the malabi dessert pudding. Some are extrapolations in which the author envisions what characteristically Dutch dishes like white asparagus would look like after receiving the Tel Aviv treatment.

An Israeli chef “wouldn’t cook it in water and serve with butter sauce or with ham,” Krant said in a video about the dish he called “grilled white asparagus with thyme zhug and pita bread croutons.” Zhug is a Yemenite sauce that resembles pesto but it based on coriander.

The award was created in 2015 by the CPNB association, which promotes Dutch-language literature in the Netherlands and Belgium.

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Washington Capitals hockey fan donates $19,000 raffle prize to Pittsburgh shooting fund

Tue, 2018-11-13 14:36

Members of the Washington Capitals celebrate after scoring a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A fan of the Washington Capitals ice hockey team donated his half of the team’s 50-50 raffle, or more than $19,000, to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh for recovery efforts following the shooting at a local synagogue.

The team announced that the proceeds collected from the pre-game raffle, in which the winner splits the pot with a designated charity, would go to the Pittsburgh Jewish federation.

Fans purchased $38,570 worth of raffle numbers, the Washington Post reported.

The winner, a Capitals season ticket holder with his teenage son, waived the prize and donated it all to the federation.

“Look, I could never write that check by myself. But it was easy. It was simple. It was the right thing to do,” he told the Post.

He said he wanted to remain anonymous so as not to distract from the cause. He is not Jewish, according to the Post.

The raffle winner said that when his son heard what the cause was, he asked to add some of his own money. His son supported the decision to donate their half of the raffle money to the Pittsburgh Jewish federation.

“When the shooting happened, and you’ve got a teenage son who’s curious about what in the world is going on, it’s an opportunity to talk through things,” the raffle winner told the Post. “We talked a lot about hate and the fact that there’s no room for hate in the world. These people were shot simply because of where they worship and the fact that they might have been helping someone else. My family feels very strongly about this.”

Eleven people were killed in the Oct. 27 shooting. According to the federation, funds collected for its Our Victims of Terror fund “are earmarked for the psychological services, support for families, general services, reconstruction, additional security throughout the community, medical bills, as well as counseling and other services that may prove necessary for victims and first responders during their recovery.”

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Tunisian Scouts Movement bars French Jews from interfaith meeting

Tue, 2018-11-13 14:20

(JTA) — Organizers of an interfaith meeting in Tunisia among members of the Scout Movement dis-invited French Jewish delegates following pressure by promoters of boycotts against Israel.

The two delegates of the International Forum of Jewish Scouts were excluded from the meeting held last week at the resort town of Hammamet for members of the youth movement from around the world. Titled “Interfaith Dialog Ambassadors,” the event brought together 150 participants from 24 countries.

But the French Jews who traveled there to participate in the event were asked to leave, Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, wrote in an open letter of complaint to Abdelaziz Rassaa, Tunisia’s ambassador to France.

The treatment of the two Jewish delegates at an event that “purports to bring closer people of various religions,” he wrote, “seriously tarnishes the image of tolerance and openness that Tunisia wishes to transmit.”

The organizers’ decision to bar the Jewish delegates, who are not Israeli citizens, follows protests online by anti-Israel groups.

TACBI, the local branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel on Nov. 6 published a statement about it.

“The Tunisian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel has learned that the Tunisian Scouts have invited an international Zionist organization, ‘The International Forum of Jewish Scouts,’” to the event, they wrote. TACBI “strongly condemns the disguised normalization operation carried out by the Tunisian Scouts,” the group added.

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Attack on Jewish teens in Toronto investigated as hate crime

Tue, 2018-11-13 14:01

(JTA) — An attack on a group of identifiably Jewish 17-year-old boys in north Toronto is being investigated as a hate crime.

The group of Jewish teens wearing “attire of their religious faith,” according to Toronto Police, on Sunday passed by a group of 10 other teenagers identified as being in their “early teens.” The larger group of teens began making derogatory remarks about the Jewish teens’ religion and then began to punch and kick two of the Jewish teens before splitting up and running away, police said. A pair of sunglasses was stolen from one of the Jewish teens.

One of the suspects was arrested at the scene, and the attacked Jewish teenagers were treated for their injuries at the scene, according to police.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a tweet: “No one should ever be attacked for their religion. Please help @TorontoPolice solve this hate crime/robbery investigation that occurred Sunday night.”

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British couple who named their son after Hitler found guilty of membership in terrorist group

Tue, 2018-11-13 13:29

(JTA) — A neo-Nazi couple in Britain who named their baby after Hitler were found guilty of being members of a banned terrorist group.

Adam Thomas, 22, and Claudia Patatas, 38, were convicted on Monday in Birmingham Crown Court in Britain’s West Midlands region for being members of the extreme right-wing organization, National Action. The group was banned in 2016.

The couple had given their baby son the middle name Adolf out of “admiration for the Nazi leader,” Thomas told the jury during the seven-week trial.

Photographs taken by police from their home showed Thomas, who had worked as a security guard, carefully holding his newborn baby while wearing the hood and white robes associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Thomas also was convicted of having a terrorist manual, titled the “Anarchist’s Cookbook,” which contained instructions on making actual working bombs.

During the trial Thomas admitted to being a racist, but said it is “something I want to put behind me,” the Guardian reported. He said that his parents were “common racists” and that his participation in chat groups where he had made anti-Semitic and racist remarks to other alleged National Action members “was entertaining to me at the time. It was funny at the time.”

Six other West Midlands residents also have been found guilty of being members of the banned extremist group in recent days. The National Action cell displayed hatred of Jews and Muslims in their encrypted online chats, according to The Guardian.

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More than 400 rockets hit southern Israel in less than 24 hours, one killed

Tue, 2018-11-13 12:08

A home in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon hit by a rocket fired from Gaza on Nov. 13, 2018. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — One person was killed and two seriously injured after a rocket fired from Gaza landed on an apartment building, as southern Israel remained under rocket siege for a second day.

The rocket hit the upper floors of a four-story apartment in Ashkelon shortly before midnight on Monday night. The body and one of the injured women were discovered early on Tuesday morning under the debris of a fallen wall.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 400 rockets fired from Gaza had struck southern Israel. At least 100 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.  The IDF has responded by hitting some 150 targets associated with the terror organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as four government buildings used by Hamas for military purposes the IDF said in a statement.

After a lull in rocket fire between about 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., rocket fire picked up again on Tuesday morning. Residents of Gaza-border communities were ordered to remain in their bomb shelters and protected rooms. Residents of the cities of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod were told to stay close to their bomb shelters and protected rooms.

On Tuesday morning an Israeli official told local media that the government has suspended cease-fire talks being mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

Six Palestinians reportedly have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, the Maan Palestinian news agency reported.

Six rockets have directly hit homes and buildings in Ashkelon leaving 74 people injured, the national broadcaster Kan reported. A rocket on Tuesday morning landed in the play yard of a nursery in a kibbutz in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, but no children were there at the time.

The dead man was identified on Tuesday afternoon as Mahmoud Abu Asbah, 48, a Palestinian from West Bank town of Halhul, north of Hebron. He reportedly had a work permit enabling him to be in Israel.

Israel’s Security Cabinet began a meeting late on Tuesday morning which was expected to last several hours. As of early Tuesday afternoon, the IDF had not yet begun to call up a significant number of reservists.

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday morning visited the Gaza border community of Netivot, which has been hit by several rockets including a direct hit on a home.

“We are all under attack, under fire whose aim is to disrupt our daily life. Your strength give us all strength. I have said in the past and I will continue to say, the area around Gaza is the whole of Israel. When the sirens are screaming here, we hear them in our hearts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all over the country,” Rivlin said during his visit.

“We must give the political and military leadership the breathing room and space to lead us in this conflict. Our responsibility is for the safety of our citizens and the routine of daily life, and then the safety of our soldiers. That responsibility is uppermost in our minds now and in the future,” he added.

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How a rabbi saved 4 Torah scrolls from being destroyed in the California wildfires

Mon, 2018-11-12 22:52

Firefighters battle a blaze at the Salvation Army Camp in Malibu, Calif., Nov. 10, 2018. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The death toll and damage continue to rise in California in the wildfires ravaging the state. More than 6,400 homes have been damaged and at least 31 people have been killed, according to CNN.

Like other Californians, Jewish residents are evacuating their homes and dealing with the devastating fallout of the fires. Synagogues, camps and a day school have all sustained damage.

Here are two remarkable stories of people coming together as a result of the fires, including a rabbi who ran into a synagogue to save its four Torah scrolls and a synagogue that helped ensure a family from an evacuated congregation was still able to celebrate their son’s becoming a bar mitzvah.

Rushing to save a synagogue’s Torah scrolls

Rabbi Barry Diamond rescuing Torah scrolls from Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Nov. 9, 2018. (David Shukiar/Facebook)

At 3 in the morning Friday, a neighbor roused Rabbi Barry Diamond from sleep to let him know that their Southern California neighborhood had been given a voluntary evacuation order. About 20 minutes later the rabbi arrived at Temple Adat Elohim, the Reform synagogue in Thousand Oaks where he works, to see fire surrounding the area by the building.

“There’s a hill right across the street from our temple — it was fully engulfed — and there was a raining down of sparks onto our property,” he told JTA on Monday.

But that didn’t deter Diamond, 56, from dashing into the synagogue to save his congregation’s holiest objects. Setting off an alarm, he entered the sanctuary and grabbed two of the congregation’s Torah scrolls: One had survived the Holocaust, the other was dedicated only six months earlier.

He then ran in a second time and, with the help of the synagogue president, Sandy Greenstein, brought out the remaining two scrolls as well as the Book of Esther scroll traditionally read on Purim.

“I would say I was a cross between nervous and determined to get these out,” Diamond said. “Sometimes you just have to put your head down and do the work and worry about your feelings later.”

As he loaded the Torahs into his car, Diamond looked back and saw that plants behind the sanctuary were ablaze. A photo taken of Diamond shows a wall of red-tinted smoke behind a nearby stand of trees.

Diamond and his wife, as well as most of his congregants, have had to evacuate their homes. As far as he knows no one has been hurt, but the synagogue has sustained damage.

The fires hit the community at an especially trying time: Only a day earlier, congregants learned that a deadly shooting at a nearby bar left 12 people dead. Diamond said two congregants were at the bar at the time of the shooting and know people who were killed.

The rabbi is trying to be there for congregants affected by either or both tragedies.

“There are people who lost their homes, there are people who are displaced, and we have to acknowledge and recognize them and be there and support them,” he said. “And there were a number of families who just suffered terribly because of this horrible act, and I don’t want their pain to be eclipsed because there’s a broader disaster that we’re living through.”

A change of bar mitzvah plans with only hours notice

From left to right, Jessa, Josie, Jace, Jeff and Jett Kletter, during Jace’s bar mitzvah at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades, Nov. 10, 2018. (Courtesy of Jeff Kletter)

On Friday morning, everything seemed to be set for Jace Kletter’s bar mitzvah the following day. The 12-year-old was planning to read from the Torah and then have a party at the Malibu Jewish Center, the Reconstructionist congregation to which his family belongs.

“The DJs, the caterers, the security guards — we had it all planned,” Jace’s father, Jeff, told JTA on Monday. “And then on Friday morning, we get a mandatory evacuation call.”

Jeff, his wife Josie and their three kids quickly left their home, but they did not realize how long they would be gone.

“We’ve always dealt with fires in Malibu, but you’re back in an hour,” Jeff said. “There’s no issue because they put it out, but this one was a raging fire.”

The next morning, it seemed unclear if Jace’s bar mitzvah could still take place. Then the family got a call from their rabbi, who told them that a different synagogue had offered to host the service and party.

Everyone quickly scrambled to reorganize the entire party. Josie wasn’t able to get in touch with the caterer, so she ordered food from a local cafe instead and supplemented it with wine and desserts from Costco. The family had left their formalwear behind, so they ran to a department store to pick up new outfits.

And though many of the guests weren’t able to make it, “a very small, meaningful group of 26 people” showed up, Jeff said.

The service was held that afternoon at Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Pacific Palisades. The synagogue was also hosting a bar mitzvah of its own, so two services were held in adjacent rooms.

Jace said that he was happy with how his bar mitzvah turned out despite the last-minute changes.

“It did look different, and there were definitely a lot less people who showed, but it was still very meaningful,” he said.

The event served as a much-needed distraction both for the Kletter family and attendees who had to evacuate their homes.

“The people who did make, it was a cathartic release for them, too, to not think about the fires for a few hours and just relax,” Jeff said. As of this writing, he still didn’t know what had happened to the family’s home.

Cantor Chayim Frenkel of Kehillat Israel said the clergy had not hesitated to offer up their space to the Kletter family as well as other Malibu Jewish Center congregants.

“[There] wasn’t even a second thought,” Frenkel said. “Of course you can come to synagogue and have services.”

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5 things to know about Miriam Adelson

Mon, 2018-11-12 22:18

Miriam Adelson at a Friends of the Israel Defense Forces gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 6, 2014. (Tiffany Rose/WireImage/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Miriam Adelson, best known for being married to one of the world’s richest men and perhaps the leading benefactor of the Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson, was named as a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner.

The White House announcement on Saturday spurred much liberal outrage: Miriam Adelson “has done nothing for her country besides being the wife of a Trump-friendly megadonor,” Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate in economics, fumed on Twitter. “Of course it’s ludicrous, and an insult to people who received the medal for genuine service.”

Indeed, the Adelsons boosted Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in its final months with a much-needed infusion of $30 million. They also spent a stunning $100 million on Republicans in the midterm elections — the couple spent election night at the White House watching the returns with Trump.

It’s also true that Trump has paid dividends to Sheldon Adelson’s hard-right pro-Israel ideology, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and perhaps to his business: Trump reportedly lobbied Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to help open an Adelson casino in Japan.

But using the Medal of Freedom to reward political backers is not exactly new. Oprah Winfrey, who helped make Barack Obama a star in 2008 and was deeply involved in that campaign, was chosen in 2013. George Tenet, the CIA director who gave President George W. Bush’s Iraq War a much needed (and it turns out misguided) seal of approval, was a recipient in 2004.

And like Winfrey, the Adelsons have a record of philanthropic giving independent of any political agenda: in the Adelsons’ case, funding medical research. That’s the main citation in the White House announcement.

“Miriam Adelson is a committed doctor, philanthropist, and humanitarian,” it says. “She has practiced internal and emergency medicine, studied and specialized in the disease of narcotic addiction, and founded two research centers committed to fighting substance abuse. With her husband, Sheldon, she also established the Adelson Medical Research Foundation, which supports research to prevent, reduce, or eliminate disabling and life-threatening illness.”

Devex, an aid and development fund tracker, says that the Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation has dispensed $67 million.

The couple is also well known — perhaps better known — for their Jewish and pro-Israel funding. Sheldon Adelson is the preeminent funder of Birthright Israel, the program that flies young Jews to Israel for free. He also gives to Holocaust remembrance and the Israeli American Council.

Here are five things to know about Miriam Adelson:

She’s hands on at her methadone clinics.

Adelson, 73, who grew up in the Israeli city of Haifa, earned her medical degree from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School. She later attended Rockefeller University in New York on an exchange program, focusing on treating drug addiction, which became her specialty.

Adelson routinely drops in at her treatment clinic hard by a nondescript strip mall in Las Vegas. She launched the clinic in 2000, seven years after opening one in Tel Aviv — which she also visits when the couple is in Israel. She will don a white coat and personally treat patients.

She couples treatment with research through Rockefeller University, where she worked in the late 1980s and is a board member. Her mentor there was Mary Jane Kreek, who developed methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction.

“From the beginning, the clinic was doing treatment and research,” Adelson told JTA in a 2016 interview at her Las Vegas clinic. “I can add more to the knowledge of addiction and we can save lives.”

Adelson’s research has explored whether there is a genetic component to addiction, not just to drugs but to behavior, like gambling and the internet.

The Adelsons arrive at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. The couple are staunch supporters of the Jewish state. (Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

She liked Ted Cruz.

By all accounts, the Adelsons are close partners in both philanthropy and politics. (They married in 1991 following her divorce from fellow physician Ariel Ochshorn.)

However, the couple had a friendly and sometimes public disagreement over which of the more establishment Republican presidential candidates they preferred in the 2016 campaign. Sheldon Adelson was leaning toward Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, while Miriam Adelson preferred Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Before they settled on Trump, however, Miriam appeared to be winning the argument — they maxed out in individual donations to Cruz’s campaign.

The Adelsons didn’t quite crown Trump the nominee — Trump, in fact, clashed with Sheldon Adelson for a period. But Sheldon Adelson consolidated Trump’s front-runner status with a May 2016 appeal to his fellow Jewish Republicans to back the presumptive nominee and make it easier for Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

She modeled a Las Vegas Jewish school on her Israeli high school.

In describing the Adelson Educational Campus, a Jewish day school in Las Vegas, Adelson explains how her education at the famed Hebrew Reali School in Haifa helped shape its educational vision.

There are no morning prayers on the campus, just as there are no prayers in Israel’s secular school system.

“We don’t force the kids to pray, we don’t force them to wear a yarmulke,” she said. Instead, the students sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. “Be proud of what we are” was her philosophy in the school, she told JTA.

In the upper classes, students are expected to have a major, just as Adelson majored in biology when she was a student at Reali decades ago.

She also insists on mandatory drug tests for everyone — students and staff.

“I don’t want a situation where one of the people on our campus is selling drugs,” Adelson told JTA. “I wanted to show the kids we are all being tested in order to find one or two that would never come forward in the early stage. We want to find them, to help them. It’s like a cancer, addiction. It’s much easier to treat it in earlier stages.”

She wants American Jews to be more like Israelis.

Injecting Israeli Jewish sensibilities into the American Jewish body politic is what drives a lot of what the Adelsons fund, including Birthright, the Las Vegas school and the Israeli American Council.

Much media coverage of the IAC focuses on how Sheldon Adelson wants it to supplement — perhaps even replace — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as the preeminent pro-Israel voice in the United States. Sheldon Adelson’s politics tack well to the right of AIPAC’s, and so do those of the IAC.

But attend an IAC conference, and the biggest takeaway one gets is that its agenda is overwhelmingly about making Israelis feel more at home in an American Jewish community that does not always share Israeli sensibilities. Israelis prefer to coalesce around food and culture, American Jews around the synagogue.

Those “how do we integrate?” side sessions bear Miriam Adelson’s imprint, and she often engages in them, in Hebrew and in English.

Adelson told JTA that American Jews could learn a lot from Israelis, especially in how to be pro-Israel.

“The Israeli Americans can help Israel,” she said. “The Jews, as we know from all the history, have many enemies, suffering a lot of hatred, sometimes within our own people. I think the Israeli Americans, the majority of them, love Israel, respect their homeland, many of them served in the Israeli army. Altogether if we are united we can be a major force to help Israel.”

She loves scouting.

Adelson, a member of the Tzofim, the Israeli scouting organization in her youth, is on the board of its American branch and has dedicated resources to expanding its reach not just to the children of Israeli Americans, but to American Jewish kids.

“If you talk about the Israeli community, you should talk about the Israeli scouts,” she told JTA. “This is really causing attachment between the Israelis” in America and those in Israel.

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California camps vow to rebuild in aftermath of still raging wildfires

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:54

A view of Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, Calif., shows how devastating the wildfires have been. (Camp Hess Kramer/Facebook)

(JTA) — Two camps that suffered major damage in the wildfires that have raged in Southern California sent a message addressed to the “camp family”: We will rebuild and we will endure.

On Sunday evening, the leaders of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and the camps it runs, Hess Kramer in Malibu and Gindling Hilltop, said that although the full extent of the damages won’t be determined for some time, “we know that it is severe.”

The night before, the temple hosted a special camp-style Havdalah ceremony.

The message said that among the buildings and areas lost at Hess Kramer are two halls, the climbing wall, a library and the ark, along with several staff residences and all but two of the cabins. At Hilltop, all the structures were lost with the exception of two cinder-block staff housing units.

The staff and Torah scrolls had been evacuated from the camps before the fire spread.

“Saturday night’s Havdalah gathering poignantly reminded us that camp is really about the people and what we do together,” the message said. “The location will be a different and temporary one, but we will be together this summer. There will be camp. Then, we will rebuild. Hess Kramer and Hilltop will endure.”

The message used the hashtags #KramerNeverStops #HilltopNeverStops.

At the Havdalah ceremony, the rabbi of Camp Hess Kramer, David Eshel, said fire has played an important role in Jewish history. The service was live-streamed on Facebook.

Before he knew the extent of the damage to the camps owned by the temple, Eshel told the campers, current and going back many decades: “We remember God spoke to Moses through the burning bush to inspire our people to freedom. God led us through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. This flame will not destroy … rather this flame will light our way to a bright, bright future.”

Campers shared their memories in the comments, all expressing great sadness at the extent of the destruction.

“So many wonderful memories of years as a camper and CIT, especially at Hilltop,” Leslie Cole wrote. “One of my very favorite places is Rabbi Wolf’s Inspiration Point. I used to hike up there, look around and just feel at one with God and the world. Camp was such a formative part of my Jewish identity. Those memories will always be with me and with my kids, who have been and are JCA campers and counselors. Our community is strong and full of life and we will rebuild, as we carry the old memories and make new ones.”

Two people have died in the Southern California blazes called the Woolsey and Hill fires. The fires have destroyed some 90,000 acres and are responsible for the destruction  of 179 homes and other buildings, while another 57,000 remain threatened.

In Northern California, Camp Fire has left 29 people dead and destroyed 113,000 acres as well as 6,453 homes and 260 other structures, including the entire town of Paradise. As of Monday morning it was about 25 percent contained.

More than 300,000 people in total have been forced to evacuate their homes in the northern and southern parts of the state, some 170,000 in Los Angeles County alone.

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Stan Lee, creator of iconic Marvel comics superheroes, is dead at 95

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:12

Stan Lee is seen onstage at Los Angeles Comic-Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Oct. 28, 2017. (Rich Polk/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly)

(JTA) — Stan Lee, who as one of the masterminds behind Marvel Comics created such mega-popular comic book franchises as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

He was 95.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, the son of a Romanian-Jewish immigrant father and what he once called a “nice, rather old-fashioned Jewish lady,” Lee drew on themes of his childhood to create a series of memorable pulp heroes whose outsider status in some ways became their superpower.

Lee was a pioneer of a comic book industry dominated at its outset by hungry, second-generation Jewish artists and writers, and one of its most iconic figures. He also lived long enough to see it transformed into a multibillion-dollar film industry that has spawned countless blockbusters based on his characters, including Black Panther, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man.

Lee grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan and attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. In 1939 he was brought in to what would become Marvel — and became its interim editor at age 19 — although it wasn’t until the early 1960s that he and artist Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) teamed up to put their distinctive stamp on the industry then dominated by DC, which published Superman and Batman comics.

According to Arie Kaplan, author of “From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books” (JPS), Lee and Kirby created “a group of superheroes who weren’t sunny or optimistic like rival company DC’s heroes. One member of the Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) felt like a freak because cosmic rays had transformed him into an orange, granite-skinned monster. With Ben Grimm, Lee and Kirby were using a superhero as a metaphor for Jews, African-Americans, and other minorities.”

In the introduction to the book “Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero,” by Danny Fingeroth, Lee wondered if the anti-Semitism he and other young comic book writers and artists experienced played a role in their art.

“[C]ould it be that there was something in our background, in our culture, that brought us together in the comic book field?” he wrote. “When we created stories about idealized superheroes, were we subconsciously trying to identify with characters who were the opposite of the Jewish stereotypes that hate propaganda had tried to instill in people’s minds?”

Yet readers also appreciated the vulnerability and human scale of his otherwise outsized characters.

“His stories taught me that even superheroes like Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk have ego deficiencies and girl problems and do not live in their macho fantasies 24 hours a day,” Gene Simmons of the band Kiss, who immigrated to the United States from Israel as a child, said in a 1979 interview. “Through the honesty of guys like Spider-Man, I learned about the shades of gray in human nature.”

In 1972, Lee was named publisher of Marvel, leaving the editing to others as he went about promoting the Marvel brand. He set up an animation studio in Los Angeles, and saw the company eventually grow from TV production into a multimedia giant that has dominated the movie box office. In 2009, the Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.

The most recent Marvel film, “Infinity War,” is the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to gross more than $1 billion.

In 2002, Lee published an autobiography, “Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.”

After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, Lee’s final few years were marked by a series of lawsuits over his fortune and allegations that Lee was a victim of elder abuse by a man handling his affairs. According to the Hollywood Reporter,  Lee’s estate is estimated to be worth as much as $70 million.

Upon hearing of his death, Lee’s Jewish fans offered tributes on Twitter.

“In honor of the late great Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, you should all read ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay’ by Michael Chabon, a novel about how American Jews invented superheroes, and why,” wrote Peter Sagal, the host of the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

NBC News correspondent Benjy Sarlin described Lee as “a big source of cultural pride as a kid, both as a New Yorker and as a Jew. It meant a lot to me that so many great comic creators had similar biographies to my grandparents and that their world was reflected in the work itself.”

Survivors include his daughter and a younger brother, Larry Lieber, a writer and artist for Marvel. Another daughter, Jan, died in infancy.

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When America doubted my Jewish grandmother’s loyalty

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:11

Jeanette Kern, left, receiving one of the two commendations she received for her work during World War II as a clerk in the Army Signal Corps, July 27, 1944. (Courtesy of Oren Hayon)

HOUSTON (JTA) — After my grandmother Jeannette died in December 1996, the process of settling her estate worked in the same way it does in most families: There was a house to be sold and possessions to be distributed.

The surviving family members were left with a few souvenirs of my grandparents’ lives and a hefty mound of paperwork to be processed: health insurance and pension forms, tax documents and medical documents, all neatly packed into cardboard boxes and thick manila envelopes.

In the 20-plus years since the estate was resolved, I hadn’t given much thought to those mounds of paperwork until last month, when my mother and I found a curious file among my grandmother’s belongings. It was a large black binder marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” stuffed full of letters and memoranda typed on crinkly onionskin paper and featuring the seal of the Department of Justice stamped on its cover. As I pored through the hundreds of typed pages packed into the binder, I began piecing together this story about loyalty and patriotism. Those documents, whose contents are described here, testify to an uneasy chapter of our nation’s history and my family’s role in it.

My first impression was that finding a confidential government file in my grandparents’ paperwork was unusual, but by no means surprising, since both of them had spent time as federal government employees. In addition to his military service, my grandfather Lou had been employed by the Works Progress Administration and the Postal Service. My grandmother had worked for the Department of the Interior and later for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

She in particular had distinguished herself with exemplary service on behalf of the United States. While Lou was fighting overseas during World War II, my grandmother took a job as a clerk in the Army Signal Corps, where she received two commendations for her contributions toward the war effort.

After the war, and my grandfather’s safe return to the United States, Lou and Jeannette Kern move from New York to El Paso, Texas, where Jeannette begins her job with INS, processing deportation paperwork for foreign nationals. One day, in the early fall of 1948, a telegram arrives at their home addressed to my grandmother. Its terse syntax barked: “reply justice department … detailed questions concerning charges, complete history her life, family, relatives, organizations she might be connacted [sic] with and definite request for formal hearing.”

The two of them must have been baffled: “justice department”? “formal hearing”? What on earth could this mean?

A test of loyalty

Soon afterward, a letter from Washington, D.C., makes everything chillingly clear: Jeannette has been charged with “sympathetic association with the Communist Party of the United States … within the purview of Executive Order No. 9835.” The letter contains no additional details, but it advises that a hearing on Jeannette’s case will be held on Nov. 16, 1948.

Jeannette and Lou quickly dash off panicked letters to an attorney friend of theirs seeking answers. How should they respond to the charges? Could this be a mistake? The charges of Communist sympathy are false, of course, but what would the taint of these accusations mean for their livelihood? What would it to do their infant daughter – my mother – who has just turned a year old?

They write a letter to Kansas Sen. Clyde Reed, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking for his assistance and guidance, but receives a letter from Washington advising them that Reed is on vacation and unable to respond. The correspondence from my grandparents makes it clear that genuine fear had begun to set in.

November quickly arrives, and Jeannette dutifully appears, as directed, before the Loyalty Board, set up by order of President Harry Truman the year before to root out communists among federal employees and job applicants. She is, understandably, unsure about what to expect.

The hearing minutes record her appeals to the committee that she be given additional time to retain a lawyer and prepare a defense. The committee, hoping for a swift resolution of the charges, initially is disinclined to grant the request, but after several rounds of back-and-forth negotiation the members are convinced to accept a postponement. The hearing is pushed back to April 6, 1949.

This is good news for my grandmother, of course, but her relief is short-lived. In this El Paso courtroom, she sees something that makes her heart sink: It’s the court stenographer. She knows her. It’s a woman named Connie, a notorious gossip who works in the steno pool at my grandmother’s office. Jeannette realizes with a growing sense of panic that news about this hearing will surely spread throughout her workplace and beyond. Any hopes she may have had for a discreet and anonymous dismissal of the false accusations leveled against her have instantly evaporated.

A letter from the Justice Department Loyalty Board dated March 15, 1949, and a telegram from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee demand that the author’s grandmother answer questions about “the complete history of her life.” (Courtesy of Oren Hayon)

“Do you know the Shapiros?”

The months before the new hearing fly past; Jeannette prepares frantically with the help of an attorney, Ernest Guinn, who will represent her. At last April 6 arrives, and my grandparents appear before the Loyalty Board in the U.S. Court House in El Paso.

Guinn opens with a request that only fair evidence and competent witnesses should be admitted into the record for deliberation. A board member quickly reassures the attorney that Jeannette is not on trial; instead, this is just an informal “administrative proceeding.” But of course this also means, he adds slyly, that the hearing “is not bound by the strict rules of evidence adhered to in the courts.”

After the opening statements, the Loyalty Board lays out their evidence for the charge that my grandmother is a communist.

  • Her mother, who lived with them back in the Bronx, New York, had emigrated to the United States from Russia .
  • Jeannette had attended a meeting of the “Southern Conference for Human Welfare,” an early civil rights group, and government informants had reported that others who attended these meetings had “communistic sympathies.”
  • One of her childhood friends suggested to the FBI that Jeannette was “communistically inclined” after she interfered with the friend’s teenage romance with her boyfriend.
  • A statement from a former neighbor stating that “I believe they are Communists because they had large pictures of Lenin and Trotsky on the wall of their apartment.” (This statement was deeply puzzling to my grandparents. Their best guess was that the neighbor had seen family photos of our Jewish relatives, who wore thick beards, and mistook them for Russian revolutionaries.)

The board begins to question my grandmother with intensity. They ask about her employment with the government, seizing on the fact that she had a security clearance, and that her secretarial work had involved administrative tasks with lists of U.S. warships in foreign waters. To counter, Guinn calls upon Davis Green, a close friend of my grandparents, to testify about Jeannette’s patriotism. The Loyalty Board grills him on his political affiliation and points out, for the record, that he is a Democrat who supports liberal causes.

After they finish with Green, the board members turn their attention back to Jeannette and ask about who she knows. Curiously, almost all of the people they inquire about appear to be Jews.

“You know the Shapiros? … Did you associate with a Sarah Klein? … Do you know a person named Anna Gelb? … Do you know an Eva Rosenbaum? … Have you become close friends with Mrs. Nathalie Gross?” they ask.

At this, Jeannette has finally had enough and snaps back in reply: “No, she is positively obnoxious.”

My grandmother’s Jewish identity continues to hold the Loyalty Board’s attention. The members ask at length about her work with Zionist organizations and her involvement in “the Palestine situation.” The interrogation includes numerous questions about the Yiddish press: “Do you read newspapers from New York? … Do you read the Morning Freiheit? … Did the Daily Worker come in to your home?” The board even calls my grandparents’ rabbi, Joseph Roth, to testify about their character.

Eventually the Loyalty Board exhausts its questions about Jeannette’s Jewish identity and turns its attention to the time and money she devotes to social welfare causes in her community, which appear to raise certain suspicions in their minds. Yes, she asserts, she has been trying “to do a little bit to help” with racial tensions in Texas.

“I remember one time a white man killed a Negro woman, and he was being set free,” she recounts. “[I tried] to interest people in becoming more community conscious.”

The board seems to think that Jeannette’s sympathy for the victims of racism is a sign of communist tendencies. The members ask pointedly, “You are not opposed to employing Negroes as household servants? Or Mexicans?”

Changing tactics, they begin asking Jeannette about her political opinions: Should the U.S. abandon its position in Berlin? Are you in favor of the Marshall Plan? And the Atlantic Pact? Are you for the abandonment of our position in Japan? Noting that her husband had been stationed in the Philippines during the war, they ask if she would have liked our overseas soldiers to come home quickly. She agrees that she would have, and they pounce on her, exclaiming that this position “happened to be a Communist Party line.”

The transcript continues through many more pages, and it includes the testimony of numerous witnesses and voluminous material (Exhibits A through T) introduced as evidence. Eventually the Loyalty Board has heard enough and adjourns the hearing to begin its deliberations.

My grandmother goes home and waits. She doesn’t hear anything for 2 1/2 months.

It’s hard to imagine how frightened and trapped she must have felt. She was a new mother with few friends in a community she did not know well, forced to defend herself against false accusations that, even if disproven, would threaten her professional livelihood and reputation. And she was swiftly arriving at the conclusion that some of the things she believed in most strongly – Jewish life, progressive politics, racial equity, the safe return of U.S. soldiers – could be used as evidence that she was a communist and a threat to America.

Patriotism and xenophobia

At last, on June 25, 1949, she receives her verdict: a letter affirming in a one-sentence statement that the Loyalty Board of the U.S. Department of Justice has ruled in Jeannette’s favor, and that all charges against her have been dismissed.

Up until a few weeks ago, no one besides my grandmother knew about the existence of the black binder. My best guess is that she kept her story a secret because of how painful the memories were. It must have been difficult for her to have been reminded about how simple it was for an overzealous government bureaucrat or a grudge-wielding neighbor to derail a fellow American’s good reputation and cast doubt on her patriotism.

Rabbi Oren Hayon says the rising anti-Semitism in America is again “garbed in the belief that Jews cannot be fully American.” (Courtesy of Hayon)

As I reflect on these events in my grandmother’s life, I am left wondering if our country has learned anything at all since she sat in that El Paso courtroom. And I confess that these reflections do not leave me feeling terribly cheerful.

Today, Jews are still painfully aware that no matter how “American” we may feel, we can easily be accused of having divided loyalties. Politicians sow fear of immigrants, stoking suspicion among neighbors. A simple mistake, a scurrilous rumor or “foreign-looking” family members can leave many among us vulnerable to others’ suspicions that we cannot be trusted – or, as we have seen in recent days, vulnerable even to violence.

My grandmother’s case offers an early glimpse into this aspect of our national culture, which would continue to corrode in the years that followed. Her hearing in the spring of 1949 was 5 1/2 years before Senator McCarthy would finally be chastened with the famous rebuke “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

We are – thankfully – several decades beyond the paranoia of McCarthyism, but its tenacious cells still sleep in the veins of fear beneath our nation’s skin. Today one can witness firsthand how easily some Americans’ love of our country can metastasize into a strain of xenophobia so pernicious that they can be convinced to turn against their fellow citizens.

Seventy years after my grandmother was summoned before a committee of the federal Justice Department, anti-Semitism is ascendant once again across America. And once more it is garbed in the belief that Jews cannot be fully American, that our values threaten the integrity of the nation which has been our beloved home for centuries.

When we discovered the nondescript black binder among my grandmother’s belongings, we had no idea what secrets it would hold. We could never have predicted the story that those yellowing photographs and official documents would tell. And, I confess, we never expected that the historical territory through which that binder led us would look quite so familiar.

(Oren J. Hayon is the senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Houston, Texas.)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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Holocaust survivor dies after being knocked down by NYC commuter rushing to subway

Mon, 2018-11-12 21:05

(JTA) — Kurt Salzinger, a Holocaust survivor, grandfather and psychology scholar, died nearly two weeks after he was pushed to the ground at Penn Station in New York City by a commuter who was running to make a train.

Salzinger died Thursday at 89. He had been in a coma since hitting his head Oct. 27 on the subway platform while heading to Macy’s to shop with his wife, according to reports. His wife, Deanna Chitayat, 85, also was knocked over by the subway rider.

Salzinger was born in Vienna, Austria, and at the age of 11 he fled the Nazis with his parents and older brother. The family escaped through an underground Jewish network and undertook a 2 1/2-year journey that sent them on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Japan, then to a boat to Seattle, Washington, and finally to New York in 1938, according to The New York Times.

He wrote or co-wrote 14 books and more than 120 research articles and book chapters, Hofstra University said in a tribute. Salzinger worked at the Long Island school for 19 years until 2001 and was a professor emeritus. He also taught at Columbia University, where he received a doctorate in psychology, and City College of New York.

Chitayat told the New York Post that the man who pushed them over stopped and looked at the couple on the ground before jumping into his train. She said her husband “lay there like a dead man, not moving,” and that other commuters rushed to their aid.

“He died because of that guy,” Chitayat told the Post. “I don’t think he meant to kill him, but he killed him.”

She told the newspaper that she doesn’t want revenge or to see the man go to jail.

“But what I want him to do is to realize what he did, to remember it and to feel guilty,” Chitayat said. “He destroyed a person’s life to rush for a train.”

Salzinger and Chitayat were married for 38 years. He is survived by four children from a previous marriage and grandchildren.

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Jewish schools grapple with a question: How do you turn a kid into a mensch?

Mon, 2018-11-12 18:37

The Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach uses a character development curriculum and has school psychologists make regular visits to classrooms to teach about positive character traits like gratitude, self-control and honesty. (Hebrew Academy)

This story is sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation.

When Rabbi David Jaffe decided to launch a program of character development at the pluralist Jewish high school where he worked as the spiritual adviser, he grappled with a challenge faced not just by teachers but by Jewish parents.

How do you turn a kid into a mensch?

In psychological terms, being a mensch equates to having well-developed social and emotional skills, like empathy and self-regulation. In a Jewish context, it’s about fostering emotional intelligence that can be expressed through actions that embody Jewish values, especially as they relate to how to treat one’s fellow.

So Jaffe encouraged students at his school, GANN Academy outside of Boston, to identify a specific skill each month and come up with specific ways to work on it. Someone who spoke up a lot in class, for example, might practice letting three others speak before them.

Groups of students would meet regularly to discuss the traits they were working on. Every student had a partner with whom they would check in regularly about their progress, and students were encouraged to maintain a journal of their experience.

Faculty members participated in the program, too, to convey the sense that there was institutional integrity behind the effort.

“The last piece is for students to see that this isn’t just another thing that adults are telling them that they should do,” said Jaffe, GANN’s former mashgiach ruchani, or spiritual adviser. “They’re seeing adults doing this also. That does something to the young person’s mind and how seriously they take it. That makes it more real for them.”

A growing number of Jewish day schools are seeking ways to build programs and school cultures that encourage menschlichkeit — the Yiddish term for exhibiting the qualities of a mensch, or a decent person. Using a variety of materials, including off-the-shelf curricula, the effort draws not only from Jewish ethical sources but from contemporary psychology.

That includes social-emotional learning, a 20-year-old field that deals with the development of basic emotional skills that individuals need to get along in life, said Maurice Elias, who teaches psychology and Jewish studies at Rutgers University and is considered one of the leading researchers in the field.

“Those skills include things like the ability to recognize feelings in yourself and in other people, the ability to regulate your emotions and your actions, having empathy, being able to be an ethical problem solver and decision maker, and being able to know how to relate to others in groups,” Elias said.

“When we say somebody is a mensch, it is a shorthand term for saying that this is somebody that has these social and emotional skills. You can almost think of a mensch as like a social genius. A mensch is a person who has such empathy and understanding of other people that they will help you without you even asking for it.”

Social geniuses aren’t necessarily born, according to Elias, but can be made through the acquisition of a specific set of teachable skills.

At the Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, an Orthodox school with nearly 500 students from early childhood through 12th grade, two school psychologists make regular visits to classrooms to teach about positive character traits like gratitude, self-control and honesty. The school uses commercial programs like Cloud 9, a character development curriculum, while also seeking to refract those lessons through a Jewish lens. Sessions about kindness and gratitude will refer to those traits by their Hebrew names and include the study of relevant Jewish sources and texts.

“With character education in general, the biggest indicator of success is modeling,” said Reena Rabovsky, the elementary school psychologist at the Hebrew Academy. “Educators showing how to be a mensch. That’s really the most powerful way.”

At the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, educators are teaching menschlichkeit through a program called Second Step, which teaches students how to manage difficult emotions like anger or impatience though a set of lesson plans, videos and role-playing exercises. Some Schechter teachers also have been trained in another social-emotional approach known as Responsive Classroom, which offers workshops on creating a school environment that is warm and welcoming.

“With character education in general, the biggest indicator of success is modeling,” says Reena Rabovsky, the elementary school psychologist at the Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach. “Educators showing how to be a mensch.” (Hebrew Academy)

Benjamin Mann, Schechter’s head of school, calls menschlichkeit “one of the pillars of our school,” but cautions that discrete curricular elements are only a piece of the puzzle.

“I think the thing that makes the difference is the daily interactions,” Mann said. “In everything that we say and do, we set a moral tone to our school life.”

That approach comports with the findings of researchers who stress that skills development alone isn’t enough. The effort to promote decent and ethical behavior has to infuse every part of school life.

“There is an increasing appreciation that the conversation around promoting menschlichkeit has to intersect with bigger questions about how education takes place in the school, how the school defines its values, how its personnel relate to one another,” said Jeffrey Kress, a psychologist and Bernard Heller Professor of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“When I was first in the field, there was a more simplistic approach — all you need is a good curriculum or list of values,” Kress said. “That’s part of the picture, but it’s ultimately not sufficient. My sense is schools are moving toward an understanding of the need for a multicomponent approach to promoting menschlichkeit.”

A 2014 study Kress conducted of GANN’s program found that it had been successful in this regard by combining text study with specific practices, journaling and group support. Kress also found that the program terminology — based on the teachings of the 19th-century Musar movement, which stressed the development of various virtues (middot, in Hebrew) as the key to a meaningful and ethical life — was employed broadly across the school, in classrooms, student interactions, assemblies, and even in faculty assessments and professional development.

But measuring the success of such programs where it ultimately matters — in affecting behavior — isn’t always straightforward. The Kress study found broad satisfaction among program participants, but didn’t seek to objectively assess whether student behavior had actually improved. Elias has co-authored a book about integrating social and emotional development into school report cards, “The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development.”

Many educators say the effort to teach menschlichkeit is working, even if its success is hard to measure quantifiably.

At Schechter, Mann says he can see the effects when he attends student exhibitions and views how presenters are given feedback and constructive questions by their peers.

“I feel it’s a great moment when I go to those student exhibitions and I hear students asking those questions in such successful ways,” Mann said. “I feel very successful in our efforts to create a culture of menschlichkeit in the school because I can see the students integrating those ideals into their behavior.”

(This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with the Avi Chai Foundation, which is committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism and the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people. In North America, the foundation works to advance the Jewish day school and overnight summer camp fields. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.)

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Wisconsin high school students make Hitler salute in group photo

Mon, 2018-11-12 18:32

(JTA) — A Wisconsin high school is investigating a group photo of male students who are nearly all giving the “Heil Hitler” salute.

The photo was taken in the spring and involves about 50 students. The photo was posted originally in a private online album tagged #BarabooProud.

One student in the photo who is not making the salute told journalist Jules Suzdaltsev in a statement that the photo was taken at the teens’ junior prom.

I spoke with the only student who is visibly not comfortable with the “salute”, he provided this statement. pic.twitter.com/HbNBc8xLOK

— Jules Suzdaltsev (@jules_su) November 12, 2018

The student, who identified himself as Jordan Blue, said he was uncomfortable with the photo but could not leave its frame since the photographer told the boys to make the salute and immediately snapped the shot.

“I knew what my morals were and it was not to salute something I firmly didn’t believe in,” he said in an account on Suzdaltsev’s Twitter account.

Jordan also said: “I attend BHS, these classmates have bullied me since entering middle school, I have struggled with it my entire life and nothing has changed.” He concluded: “I truly and firmly believe we need to make a change to this horrible act, it needs to stop. Bullying. Immaturity. and just taking things as a joke.”

The school, located in southern Wisconsin less than an hour from Madison, responded in a tweet from its official Twitter page.

“The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo,” the tweet said. “We are investigating and will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”

In a statement to parents, the Baraboo School District said the district is “a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry are respected and celebrated.

The Baraboo Police Department is assisting the school district in its investigation.

The official Auschwitz Memorial Twitter page tweeted a response to the photo.

“If @barabooSD wishes to know more about what can be the extreme result of normalization of hatred – and hatred is enrolled in this symbol – please see some online lessons dedicated to the history of Auschwitz,” it said.

The memorial attached a link to its e-learning page.

If @barabooSD wishes to know more about what can be the extreme result of normalization of hatred – and hatred is enrolled in this symbol – please see some online lessons dedicated to the history of Auschwitz: https://t.co/M1VC8b8Jlj

— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) November 12, 2018

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