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Updated: 17 min 38 sec ago

Ukrainian officials post footage of vandals drawing swastikas on Holocaust memorial

41 min 9 sec ago

(JTA) — City officials in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv published online security camera footage of vandals painting Nazi symbols on a Holocaust memorial in a bid to identify them.

The municipality made the unusual move last week on its website, in which it showed an image of an individual wearing a backpack and a hat squatting in front of a part of the Space of Synagogues memorial display.

The city inaugurated the display last year on part of the former Golden Rose Synagogue complex with support from some Jewish groups and despite opposition by others, who warned the space could invite vandalism and desecration because it resembles a park.

In the June 20 incident, several young men wrote neo-Nazi slogans on stone slabs meant to evoke headstones. They also drew a swastika and ultra-nationalist Ukrainian symbols, as well as the words “white power” in English.

Mayor Andriy Sadovy in a statement called the incident “unacceptable” and made an unusual appeal “to the heads of the police and security services to find the perpetrators as soon as possible and punish them.” He also urged anyone with knowledge of the incident or the perpetrators’ identity to come forward.

 

Ukraine city to hold festival in honor of Nazi collaborator whose troops killed Jews

1 hour 5 min ago

(JTA) — A leader of Ukrainian Jewry condemned the hosting in Lviv of a festival celebrating a Nazi collaborator on the anniversary of a major pogrom against the city’s Jews.

The municipality plans to hold “Shukhevychfest,” an event named after the nationalist collaborator Roman Shukhevych featuring music and theater shows, on June 30th. Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, in a statement called the event “disgraceful.”

On June 30, 1941, Ukrainian troops, including militiamen loyal to Shukhevych’s, began a series of pogroms against Jews, which they perpetrated under the auspices of the German army, according to Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder and other scholars. They murdered approximately 6,000 Jews in those pogroms.

This June 30 will be the 110th birthday of Shukhevych, a leader of the OUN-B nationalist group and later of the UPA insurgency militia, which collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union before it turned against the Nazis.

“Shukhevychfest” is part of a series of gestures honoring nationalists in Ukraine following the 2014 revolution, in which nationalists played a leading role. They brought down the government of former president Viktor Yanukovuch, whose critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge.

On June 13, a Kiev administrative court partially upheld a motion by parties opposed to the veneration of Shukhevych in the city and suspended the renaming of a street after Shukhevych. The city council approved the renaming earlier this month.

In a related debate, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Vladimir Vyatrovich, who recently described Shukhevych as an “eminent personality,” last month defended the displaying in public of the symbol of the Galician SS division. Responsible for countless murders of Jews, Nazi Germany’s most elite unit was comprised of Ukrainian volunteers.

Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Ukraine but the Galician SS division’s symbol is “in accordance with the current legislation of Ukraine,” Vyatrovich said.

In Russia, meanwhile, Henri Reznik, a former president of the Moscow City Bar Association, resigned his teaching position at the state-run Moscow State Law University over its inauguration of a plaque honoring Joseph Stalin, a former leader of the Soviet Union who killed millions of suspected dissidents and implemented anti-Semitic policies.

Reznik, who is Jewish, wrote in the Moscow Echo Tuesday that it was “unacceptable” for a state institution devoted to justice to celebrate the legacy of a man who flaunted judicial process and “deported entire peoples.”

In a survey conducted in April among 1,600 adult Russians, 38 percent of respondents said Stalin was the most venerable Russian to ever live – the highest approval rating of any personality named, followed by President Vladimir Putin and the poet Alexander Pushkin, who both had a 34 percent rating.

 

Norwegian minister who voted for ban on circumcision vows to protect practice

1 hour 33 min ago

(JTA) — The leader of Norway’s second-largest party made conflicting statements about her position on efforts to outlaw non-medical circumcision of boys younger than 18.

Siv Jensen, the leader of the Progress Party — a junior coalition partner of the ruling Conservative Party — voted in favor of a motion opposing ritual circumcision during the annual party convention held on June 6 north of Oslo.

Jensen, who is Norway’s finance minister, later said she had intended to vote against the motion, which passed with a comfortable majority, explaining the voting was “confusing.” She also said that she “respects the will” of the majority of party members who voted in favor of the ban.

Yet during a meeting Monday in Oslo with a rabbi from Belgium and another rabbi from the Netherlands, Jensen said she would not advance prohibitions on the ritual.

“I want to re-assure that it is not on the government agenda, not on my party’s agenda and is not on my personal agenda,” Jensen on Monday reportedly told Rabbi Menachem Margolin from the Brussels-based European Jewish Association and Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs.

“I want to make it clear: on my shift, this will not be followed up. Here in Norway we respect freedom of religion. We oppose anti-Semitism, we do not tolerate it and we will fight it,” Jensen also said.

Many European secularists regard circumcision on minors, which is performed by Muslims and Jews, as a violation of children’s rights. A similar debate is taking place across Europe and on the continent’s north about the issue of ritual slaughter of animals, which devout Jews and Muslims require be performed on conscious animals.

Several parties in Norway, where ritual slaughter has been prohibited since 1929, support banning nonmedical circumcision of boys.

In 2014, the Norwegian government introduced legislation that regulated nonmedical circumcision of boys stipulating that the procedure must be performed under the supervision and in the presence of a licensed physician, but it may be physically carried out by other persons.

Netanyahu defends suspending the Western Wall agreement. Here’s how.

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:39

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, leading the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

(JTA) — American Jewish leaders are calling it a betrayal.

They say that 17 months after achieving a historic agreement to provide a non-Orthodox space at Judaism’s holiest prayer site, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reneged in a Cabinet vote Sunday, effectively canceling the deal and caving to the interests of his haredi Orthodox coalition partners.

Netanyahu disagrees. Far from killing the compromise, he believes the vote has given it new life. And far from betraying Diaspora Jewry, he says the vote shows his concern for Jews around the world.

In a lengthy conversation Monday with a senior Israeli official, JTA was given some insight into Netanyahu’s defense of the vote freezing the 2016 Western Wall agreement: why he did it, what the vote leaves in place and what it means moving forward.

The agreement, which was passed by the Cabinet in January 2016, has three components. First is a physical expansion and upgrade of the non-Orthodox prayer section south of the familiar Western Wall plaza. Second is the construction of a shared entrance to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections. Third is the creation of a government-appointed, interdenominational Jewish committee to govern the non-Orthodox section.

Sunday’s decision, the senior official said, leaves in place the physical expansion of the prayer site while suspending the creation of the interdenominational committee. Netanyahu’s haredi partners, the official said, objected to the idea that the committee amounted to state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism.

With the controversy over the committee frozen, the official said, actual building at the site can start unhindered and will be expedited.

“The symbolic piece was holding the practical piece hostage,” the official, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, told JTA. “What was frozen yesterday was the symbolic part. The practical part of advancing the prayer arrangements, that can now move forward. Regrettably, there are those on both sides who are spinning this as cancellation.”

However, several aspects of the project as it stands are murky. It isn’t clear whether the expansion of the site will proceed according to the dimensions outlined in the 2016 agreement. Nor is it clear whether construction will begin on the shared entrance to the site or whether the non-Orthodox space will have a staff, accessible prayer books and Torah scrolls, as promised in the agreement.

Israeli lawmaker Nachman Shai, left, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky at a meeting in the Knesset, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The official told JTA that the suspension of the deal is itself a compromise: the haredi parties wanted to cancel the deal altogether, a step he said that Netanyahu was unwilling to take. Freezing the agreement, the official said, allows for continued negotiations to rework it. It also may provide an acceptable answer to the Supreme Court, which is considering a petition to force the government to provide an “appropriate space” for non-Orthodox prayer at the wall.

The official added that “The prime minister takes Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry very seriously.”

But non-Orthodox leaders were not placated by these assurances.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, called Sunday’s vote “sleight of hand.” He is treating it as a cancellation of the agreement, given that the agreement had not been implemented nearly a year and a half after being passed.

“It’s not really a freeze, it’s a kill,” he said. “It’s already been frozen. It hasn’t been moving for 18 months. We were waiting, and assured by the prime minister that entire time that negotiations were happening and they would get back to us. That hasn’t happened.”

Jewish leaders also called the expansion of the prayer space insufficient. They noted that the shared entrance would grant the non-Orthodox space equal standing with the Orthodox section, but the current plan for expanding the space is unknown.

“The physical portion of this agreement was far more extensive, including opening the site to the main plaza, making it visible and accessible,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “What the government is currently planning to do in no way meets the promises and the details of this agreement.”

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall prayer group, whose activism led to negotiations over the wall, also said that any physical expansion of one of the most sensitive sites in the world would take years. Given the delays that have already plagued the process, Hoffman said she is hesitant to trust assurances from Netanyahu.

“We sat for three years in good faith, our group split over this, we paid such a price, how could I possibly believe you?” she recalls telling Tzachi Hanegbi, a government minister and Netanyahu ally, on Tuesday. “And now you’re going to compromise over the compromise?”

On Tuesday, at the conclusion of its board of governors’ meetings in Jerusalem,  Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky urged 200 employees who represent the agency abroad to prepare for criticism of the government’s suspension in the Diaspora. The night before, the Jewish Agency canceled its scheduled gala dinner with Netanyahu over the Cabinet vote.

According to a statement, Sharansky urged the emissaries to “listen to expressions of anger and criticism that are being heard in many Jewish communities and bring them to the attention of public figures and politicians in Israel.”

After meeting with the prime minister on Monday, Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told The Times of Israel that American Jewish groups plan to lobby Israelis to support their concerns about religious pluralism. American Jewish leaders, he said, will also invest more in lobbying Israeli lawmakers.

But the Israeli official told JTA that trying to force change in Israeli religious policy is what leads to acrimony over these issues. Better, he said, to let the laws change gradually and quietly.

“So what you have is, you have the status quo: a set of slowly evolving, informal rules,” the official said. “Often you get into trouble when one of the sides tries to formalize something by going to court or by legislation.”

Unable to work in Israel, Brazilian dentists demand employment permits

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:37

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A group of Brazilian immigrants who have been unable to work in their professions in the health field in Israel demanded work permits during a Knesset session.

Representatives of the Israeli ministries of health, absorption and education, as well as the Jewish Agency, heard claims Tuesday from dentists, psychologists, physiotherapists, phonologists and other professionals who have been waiting for over a year in some cases without an answer about validating their diplomas obtained in Brazil.

“The ministries must give clearer messages to olim so that they can get more appropriately prepared to make aliyah,” Israeli lawmaker Avraham Neguise of the Likud party, told JTA. “Brazilian aliyah is very important, and we want to do our utmost to make it easier for Brazilians to enter the job market in their professions.”

Neguise, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel in 1985, is chairman of the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs.

“The idea is to take concrete steps, make them really assess the current situation, case by case, and start to have victories by achieving successful cases in diploma validation,” Michel Abadi, president of the Beit Brasil organization, told JTA.

Brazilian universities offer a four-year curriculum for dentists, whereas Israeli programs are five years. The difference of up to 800 hours of studies is seen to be the biggest challenge.

“Most Brazilian dentists have a post-graduation degree, which adds another 800 hours to their resume. Plus, they commonly work as interns in extremely poor communities, which gives them a unique practice that also can be added to their experience,” Brazilian-born attorney Osheria Stauber Franjovits told JTA. “We want to help the Ministry of Health establish a detailed comparison, a mathematical equivalence, each and every subject and material matters.”

According to the Jewish Agency, immigration to Israel, or aliyah, from Brazil has grown in recent years. In 2016, nearly 700 Brazilians immigrated to Israel, a 350 percent increase over the annual average since the State of Israel was founded in 1948. In 2015, the number was 500. In 2014, 280 immigrants from Brazil arrived in Israel.

“Difficulties in integration, whether social or professional, are generally country-specific, and Brazilians are no exception,”  Yigal Palmor, director of public affairs and communications for the Jewish Agency, told JTA. I would say that Brazilians generally enjoy a very positive collective image among Israelis, with practically no negative stereotypes, and this should make their absorption a bit easier than some other groups of olim.”

In early 2016, a new Israeli law exempted all foreign-born dentists who can prove five years of practice. Several Brazilians who have applied under the law were told they would be evaluated by a professional commission, but after seven months they have not received any feedback.

“The issue has become a phenomenon. It’s not an individual problem, no one has received any answer at all,” said Frajnovits, whose legal work specializes in revalidating diplomas for Brazilian immigrants. “We believe it is a maneuver to put off the topic to avoid saying yes. Senior professionals with a 15-year career have been treated the same way as those with six years or less. Today, no one can work.”

It was the third session held by the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs regarding Brazilian aliyah. The previous ones were held last month and in March 2016.

Some 13,000 Brazilians are now living in Israel, according to the Brazilian Embassy in Tel Aviv. Brazil is home to some 120,000 Jews, according to the Latin American Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, founder of ArtScroll Publications, dies at 73

Tue, 2017-06-27 20:20

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, who built his legacy around the power of books and the need to spread Torah knowledge, has died.

Zlotowitz, the founder of ArtScroll Publications, died Friday. He was 73.

A Brooklyn native, Zlotowitz graduated from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem yeshiva in downtown Manhattan. He then joined a graphics studio named ArtScroll Studios, which at the time produced items such as wedding and bar mitzvah invitations. Zlotowitz eventually paired up with Rabbi Nosson Scherman and the two began to write copy for the business.

In 1975, Scherman and Zlotowitz published an English translation and commentary on the Book of Esther that sold 20,000 copies in two months. From this endeavor, ArtScroll Publications was born.

ArtScroll and its parent company, Mesorah Publications, became one of the most renowned and prolific publishers of religious Jewish texts for the English-speaking market, producing more than 700 books by 1990. Exquisitely designed, often with tooled cover designs meant to evoke old leather volumes, ArtScroll’s prayer books, Bibles, collections of Jewish wisdom and other “seforim” cornered the Orthodox market in recent years.  

ArtScroll’s edition of the Humash, or Five Books of Moses — named the “Stone Humash” in  honor of one of its underwriters — was notable, and sometimes notorious, for commentary and translations that in keeping with Zlotowitz’s traditionalist ideology shunned most modern interpretations. As Zlotowitz put it in the introduction to ArtScroll’s first book, “Belief in the authenticity of every book of the Torah is basic to Jewish faith, and we proceed from there. … I consider it offensive that the Torah should need authentication from the secular or so-called ‘scientific’ sources.”

The ArtScroll Siddur, or prayer book, meanwhile, while equally traditionalist, became popular for beginners and those new to Orthodoxy for its reader-friendly page designs and careful instructions in English.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, told the New York-based religious news website Vos Iz Neias: “The limud haTorah [Torah study] that was instigated by accessibility, which is what ArtScroll did, has really taken the idea of the masses having the access to Torah and every Jew finding his place in Torah to new heights.”

Zlotowitz said of his life’s work in a 2012 interview with Chananya Kramer of Kolrom Multimedia, quoted in a tribute to him in Vos Iz Neias: “There are very few things that one can do today that will still be here and vibrant and in libraries in three, four, five hundred years from now. It is not limited to any geographic entity. It’s not limited to any time entity. Books are truly timeless and affect eternity in different ways.”

He is survived by his wife, Rachel, along with eight children, and more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Brandeis gets record $50 million donation to help with financial aid

Tue, 2017-06-27 20:16

(JTA) — Brandeis University has received a $50 million gift — the largest single donation in the suburban Boston school’s 69-year history — to provide financial aid annually for hundreds of students.

The gift from the estate of Rosaline and Marcia Cohn announced Tuesday by the university will establish the Jacob and Rosaline Cohn Endowed Scholarship and Fellowship Fund, providing assistance to undergraduate and graduate students.

Rosaline and Jacob Cohn, and their daughter Marcia, did not hold any formal connection to the university, but the family had given to Brandeis for decades, beginning with a $100 gift in 1956 from Rosaline and Jacob.

“Like many generous philanthropic families,” Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said, “the Cohns were inspired by the very idea of Brandeis, a university founded by the Jewish community to be open to all students of talent, reflecting the Jewish values of reverence for academic excellence and dedication to using one’s talents to improve the world.”

Jacob Cohn, who immigrated from Lithuania, established the Continental Coffee Co. in Chicago in 1915. He died in 1968. Rosaline Cohn died in 2010 at 97. Marcia Cohn died in 2015.

Daphne Greenberg, who graduated from Brandeis in 1984, received a Cohn scholarship and now is a distinguished university professor. She was hopeful about the continued support from the Cohn family.

“I used to worry that 18-year-olds today would not be as fortunate as I was,” she said in a statement. “But with this gift from the Cohn family, students like me will continue to be given an opportunity.”

Yearly tuition and other expenses at the school cost about 68,000, according to collegedata.com.

These photos capture Israel’s beauty and diversity

Tue, 2017-06-27 20:04

“Tel Aviv Beach” by Itamar Grinburg (Courtesy of Karen Lehrman Block)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — When the world sees photographs of Israel, they are often accompanied by reports of conflict and violence.

But a photo exhibition that opened last week at the Jerusalem Theater aims to capture the country in a more flattering light. The images, which will be on display through July 28, show Israel’s people and geography from a variety of angles — from flocks of birds descending on the Hula Valley to a little boy carrying a rainbow flag.

“I wanted to do something beautiful that would display the country’s inherent diversity,” said Karen Lehrman Bloch, the exhibition’s American co-curator. “I’m not trying to beauty-wash Israel, I just think everyone has already seen enough of the conflict.”

The exhibition is based on Bloch’s book “Passage to Israel,” which is filled with 200 images by 34 photographers taken across Israel and Jewish settlements. The book, published in 2016, led to an exhibition in New York that featured a performance by the Jewish reggae star Matisyahu.

In the Jerusalem version, 30 photos by 21 photographers are on display. Kara Meyer, the other co-creator, added two images by a young Arab-Israeli photographer to the exhibition, which otherwise is dedicated to the work of Jewish Israelis.

Bloch plans to show the photos next in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel, and then on an international tour. More photos from the book can be found at the “Passage to Israel” website.

“Agamon Hula: Chaos” by Tzachi Yaffe (Courtesy of Karen Lehrman Block)

 

 

“Supermarket During Purim” by Udi Goren (Courtesy of Karen Lehrman Block)

 

 

“Kidane Mihret, Ethiopian Church Interior” by Dor Kedmi (Courtesy of Karen Lehrman Block)

 

 

“Umm al-Fahm” by Ammar Younis (Courtesy of Karen Lehrman Block)

This 400-year-old Jewish library survived Hitler and the Inquisition

Tue, 2017-06-27 19:56

Staff preparing the Ets Haim Jewish library in Amsterdam for a tour, May 17, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

AMSTERDAM (JTA) —  Livraria Ets Haim is the world’s oldest functioning Jewish library. As such, it is no stranger to the prospect of imminent destruction.

Founded in 1616 by Jews who fled Catholic persecution in Spain and Portugal, the three-room library is adjacent to Amsterdam’s majestic Portuguese Synagogue in the Dutch capital’s center.

The 30,000-volume collection mostly contains manuscripts written by people who fled the Inquisition on the Iberian Peninsula or their descendants. The oldest document is a copy of the Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish religious law authored by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides, that dates to 1282. Ets Haim’s volume is pristine but for the scars left behind by an Inquisition censor, a Jew who had converted to Christianity and singed away entire passages of the book.

Ets Haim as a whole faced a similar fate — or worse — in 1940, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and had 75 percent of its Jews murdered. Yet the Nazis left the Portuguese Synagogue intact, and instead of burning the library’s collection, they shipped the books to Germany. The collection was discovered there, with light damage, after the war.

After the war, the books were returned to Amsterdam. But the Dutch Jewish community lacked the resources to preserve the collection. Library curators determined that the Ets Haim building would need to be renovated thoroughly to ensure the proper conditions, so in 1979 the books were sent to Israel.

Following extensive renovations to the building, which dates to 1675, the collection returned home in 2000. And now, relying upon 21st-century technology, its custodians are determined to make the library’s works accessible to interested parties around the world. The aim, according to Ets Haim’s curator, Heide Warncke, is to ensure that the knowledge stored between its pages is never lost again.

In 2014, using advanced imaging equipment, the National Library of Israel has partnered with Ets Haim to digitize its entire catalog. And now the partners will make everything available online — and for free.

The Jerusalem library will include Ets Haim’s books in Ktiv, a vast international collection of digitized Hebrew manuscripts that is set to launch in August. The scans — from centuries-old stores like Ets Haim’s — are ultra high-resolution files that are resistant to digital decay. For added security, they are stored on several servers worldwide.

Cataloger Ruth Peeters, center, telling visitors about the history of the Ets Haim Jewish library in Amsterdam, May 17, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“Like many Holocaust survivors have in their lives, the books of Ets Haim have demonstrated a remarkable ability to cheat death,” said Aviad Stollman, head of collections at the National Library of Israel. “But we still need to do our part to ensure this exquisite Jewish library is preserved for centuries to come.”

The library is housed in a two-story wooden building with a steep, spiral staircase and two octagonal sky windows that provide defused light. It is open to the public only a handful of times each year during guided tours that typically need to be booked in advance. (Accredited scholars may access the library year-round.)

Warncke said the restrictive policy is meant to protect the books, which are at risk of being damaged by humidity and changes in temperature.

The Ets Haim collection, which in 2003 was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage items, owes its richness to its genesis from Iberian Jews, she added.

These Jewish immigrants were pioneers in philosophy, innovation, trade and medicine, she said. When they fled the Inquisition, they brought knowledge to the Netherlands on theology, astronomy (as evidenced in Ets Haim’s Hebrew-language book from the 17th century titled “Collection of Astronomical Treatises”) and medicine.

One decidedly modern volume, the “Dictionary of Maritime Terms,” was published in 1780 by the translator David Franco Mendes in Amsterdam, offering entries in Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish alongside fine sketches of ship parts. Though his book is secular in essence, Mendes was a prominent member of the Jewish congregation as well as an insurance broker.

Other Sephardic Jews used the relative tolerance they encountered in the Netherlands to resume the study of Jewish texts that had been largely stunted throughout Europe following the Inquisition.

“The people who founded Ets Haim and helped it grow had been living under persecution for decades,” said Ruth Peeters, a senior cataloger at the library. “You can see in the books their enthusiasm about being able to reconnect with their Jewish traditions openly and resume the study of it. Ets Haim is a testament to the cultural revival they led.”

A researcher working at the Ets Haim Jewish library in Amsterdam, May 17, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

At times, this enthusiasm for theological debate tested the borders of acceptability even in the Netherlands, which despite being a relatively tolerant nation was also a deeply religious Christian one. One such publication was the benignly titled book “Selected Works by Various Authors.” Written in Spanish in the 17th century by Saul Levi Mortera, it contains “refutation of the gospels, acts, epistles” according to Ets Haim, and “arguments against Christianity,” according to the Israeli library.

Such explosive publications were kept at Ets Haim as manuscripts and were printed rarely, Warncke said, so as to limit their distribution and avoid angering Dutch society.

This culture of debate among the Jewish community, as well as its exposure to different religions and ideas that an international trading hub provided, produced heretics like the philosophers Baruch Spinoza — who was excommunicated by Jews for his atheist musings, possibly because they also offended Christians — and Uriel da Costa.

There is no way of knowing for sure, but both men (who died in 1632 and 1640, respectively) may well have frequented Ets Haim to conduct their research, Warncke said.

“It was, after all, the largest collection around of Jewish writings,” she said.

And while there is no record of Spinoza’s activity at the library, his father had enrolled him in the Ets Haim seminary, which was Amsterdam’s first Portuguese Jewish seminary, of which the library was a part.

Another controversial figure did leave an indelible mark on the library: Shabbetai Zevi, the Turkey-born Jewish eccentric who divided the Jewish world with his claim that he was the Messiah. Under duress, he converted to Islam in 1666.

One of Ets Haim’s most remarkable documents is a letter sent that year to Zevi by 24 Dutch Jews who left the community over their support for Zevi’s messianic claim. In the three-page Hebrew-language document, they ask for word from their messiah and recount the story of Shabtai Raphael, who was banned from the city over his support for Shabbetai Zevi. The letter never reached the self-proclaimed messiah, probably because he had already converted to Islam when the envoy sent with it reached the Ottoman Empire.

Whereas these documents are well researched, new discoveries are always being made, said Warncke. As an example, she cited a 15th-century author’s dedication to his wife – a rare tribute for a woman that reflected the progressive nature of Dutch Jewry at the time.

Digitization, she said, is “one of the possibilities to make our manuscripts accessible to a bigger audience. That can lead to more knowledge. There are many secrets still to be unlocked.”

LGBT Jews say it’s increasingly difficult to be pro-Israel and queer

Tue, 2017-06-27 18:23

Marchers at the New York City Pride Parade holding signs for an LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, June 25, 2017. (Harold Levine)

NEW YORK (JTA) — For years, Laurie Grauer had waved a rainbow flag emblazoned with a Jewish star at the Chicago Dyke March, sometimes marching near activists waving Palestinian flags. It had never been a problem.

But this year, Grauer was confronted by the LGBT parade’s organizers, questioned about her support for Israel and asked to leave because she was carrying the flag. She was one of three women with Jewish flags kicked out of Sunday’s parade.

Grauer says she was used to Israel being a sensitive issue in queer spaces. But she did not expect to be condemned for displaying her Jewish identity.

“To say that you can only identify one way is very dangerous,” said Grauer, the Midwest manager for A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT group. “Here you have this march that is supposed to be something for people that feel oppressed, invisible, marginalized, [where] they can be who they are. I wasn’t pushing my views on people and was told the way you’re expressing yourself is unacceptable.”

The incident at the Dyke March was just the latest in a series of clashes over Israel at activist events for the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, community. Being pro-Israel at LGBT events has become difficult, LGBT Jewish leaders say, and at times the opposition to Israel has spilled over into making Jews feel uncomfortable about displaying their identity.

Similar tensions arose earlier in June at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, where activists from the far-left Jewish Voice for Peace infiltrated the parade delegation of Jewish Queer Youth, an LGBT group, and held anti-Israel banners. One of the protesters said he was there to “counter Israel’s pinkwashing” — that is, to stop the pro-Israel LGBT group from using Israel’s relatively progressive attitudes to distract from the Palestinian issue.

Last year, an event featuring an Israeli group at an LGBT conference in Chicago was canceled, then reinstated, and took place amid vocal protest.

Nor are these debates new. In 2011, New York City’s LGBT Community Center agreed to lease space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, leading gay adult film star and pro-Israel activist Michael Lucas to call for a boycott of the center. The center relented, opting not to host any groups connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We’ve seen that in a number of different settings, these kinds of incidents have absolutely been increasing in frequency,” said Idit Klein, executive director of Keshet, an LGBT Jewish organization.

The LGBT community is “more likely to be sensitive to and have empathy with others who experience oppression and discrimination. People see injustices being perpetrated against Palestinians by the Israeli government,” she said. “Many don’t necessarily understand the complexity of the history.”

Several Jewish groups have called on the Dyke March to apologize for expelling the activists, but march organizers are standing by their decision. In a statement Sunday, they said the women were expelled because they were pro-Israel activists and the march is anti-Zionist.

The statement noted that Grauer was a member of A Wider Bridge, which the Dyke March called “an organization with connections to the Israeli state and right-wing pro-Israel interest groups.” It also accused Israel of pinkwashing.

“This decision was made after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members,” the statement read. “The Chicago Dyke March Collective is explicitly not anti-Semitic, we are anti-Zionist. The Chicago Dyke March Collective supports the liberation of Palestine and all oppressed people everywhere.”

Not all Jews have condemned the march for excluding the Jewish women. Jewish Voice for Peace, the group that infiltrated the Celebrate Israel Parade and a backer of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, tweeted its support of the expulsion.

Klein said the tensions over Israel in the broader LGBT community also exist within the LGBT Jewish community. Conversations over Israel in that context become increasingly touchy because people connect their stances on Israel with their overlapping identities.

“There’s an extra layer of identification as a group that experiences injustice, so that adds a layer of intensity,” the Keshet leader said. “It makes it a struggle to enable people to be in one space together. I haven’t figured it out and nor has anyone else.”

Other LGBT Jewish activists linked the tensions over Israel to a general decline in civil discourse. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a New York City LGBT synagogue, said acrimony on social media has spilled over into on-the-ground events.

“It’s become less respectful, more with a tremendous character assassination, and that deeply saddens me,” Kleinbaum said. “The larger political world has become that way. Social media has created a platform for people who don’t care about nuance.”

Three years ago Kleinbaum’s synagogue, which regularly joins the Celebrate Israel Parade, faced criticism from some of its pro-Israel members for its sympathy to the Palestinians and criticism of Israeli policy.

And if it is not just the left, it’s not just Israel either, said Mordechai Levovitz, executive director of Jewish Queer Youth. He’s seen people berated or excluded from activist circles because they are politically conservative or too openly religious. Israel is doubly complicated, he added, because it connects both to a political issue and ethnic identity.

“This is rooted in an approach that’s all about shutting other people down instead of hearing people who disagree with your point of view,” Levovitz said. “Israel is a very complex issue for Jews because it doesn’t have to do with a state’s policy, it has to do with your identity. How can you say you can have pride in one aspect of your identity but not the other?”

Jewish LGBT leaders hope they can stem these trends through dialogue and explanation, distinguishing Israel’s politics from the nation’s right to exist, and Israel from Judaism. Kleinbaum will attend a roundtable of LGBT leaders across communities Wednesday where she will share her personal experience regarding Israel.

“People are behaving in an anti-Semitic way without knowing that’s what they’re doing,” said Lilli Kornblum, past president of Or Chadash, a former LGBT synagogue in Chicago. “They may be more open to understanding the nuances of the community. My goal between now and next year’s Dyke March is we’ve got a year to sit down and talk about this. I’m much more likely now to go” to the march next year.

In the meantime, the women who were kicked out of the march have said they feel anguished. But Grauer said that although she was pained by the  incident, she has been supported by activists from across the wider LGBT community.

“I was really hurt and betrayed in that safe environment,” Grauer said of the Dyke March. “I can’t say I’m being betrayed by the queer community as a whole. When you have people like that who also speak up, I can never say I was betrayed.”

New Jersey rabbi, wife arrested for fraud in raids on haredi Orthodox community

Tue, 2017-06-27 17:51

Ocean County Park in Lakewood, N.J. (Bogdan Migulski/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

(JTA) — A New Jersey rabbi and his wife were arrested with three other Jewish couples for underreporting their incomes to receive government benefits.

The couples, including the rabbi’s brother and wife, were arrested Monday in raids that resulted from an investigation into Lakewood, a New Jersey town that is home to a large haredi Orthodox community. More arrests are expected, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said, according to The Associated Press.

The FBI and the New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office launched the probe.

By underreporting their incomes, Rabbi Zalmen Sorotzkin and his wife, Tzipporah, and the other couples defrauded state and federal assistance programs of over $1 million, according to criminal complaints, AP reported.

The Sorotzkins were charged in state court with illegally collecting more than $338,000 in benefits. They will plead not guilty, their attorney said, according to AP.

Another couple, Mordechai and Jocheved Breskin, was charged with illegally collecting $585,000.

In federal court, Zalmen Sorotzkin’s brother, Mordechai, and his wife, Rachel, were charged with another couple, Yocheved and Shimon Nussbaum, with illegally collecting benefits, including Medicaid.

“My office gave clear guidance and notice to the Lakewood community in 2015 of what is considered financial abuse of these programs,” Coronato said. “Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions.”

Jewish groups urge Senate to oppose health care bill

Tue, 2017-06-27 17:08

NEW YORK (JTA) — A coalition of Jewish organizations led by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism urged members of the U.S. Senate to oppose the bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The letter sent to all 100 senators Tuesday, signed by 14 organizations, says that the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would undercut Medicaid, the federal program that currently pays for half of all births in the United States and about 62 percent of seniors who are living in nursing homes.

The Senate bill would lower government spending on Medicaid by capping the per capita cost of serving various groups, such as children, adults, people with disabilities or the elderly. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican-backed bill would reduce projected Medicaid spending by $772 billion in the coming decade, and 15 million fewer people would be covered by Medicaid in 2026 than under the current law.

“Among other harmful provisions, transforming Medicaid into a per-capita cap system would not only take away health care from those who have benefited from the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, but would harm populations that have been covered by Medicaid since its inception,” according to the letter. “States will face impossible choices prioritizing among people with disabilities, low-income Americans, and children and will have no option but to slash services that are essential for the daily lives of millions.”

Signers of the letter include Bend the Arc-Jewish Action, Jewish Federations of North America, National Council of Jewish Women, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, and Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist groups.

Jewish Federations of North America estimates that the care providers affiliated with Jewish federations receive $6 billion from the Medicaid program annually.

Israel and Russia only countries to view Trump more favorably than Obama, poll shows

Tue, 2017-06-27 17:06

President Donald Trump at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremony in New London, Conn., May 17, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Israel and Russia were the only two countries to have a more favorable view of President Donald Trump than his predecessor, Barack Obama, at the end of his time in office, a survey found.

The annual survey by the Pew Research Center on America’s image abroad also found that some 81 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Trump, compared with a median of 58 percent, according to the results released Tuesday.

Some 40,447 respondents in 37 countries outside the United States answered the survey from Feb. 16 to May 8.

Israel’s favorability rating of the United States has held steady over the past several surveys, including 81 percent in 2015, 84 percent in 2014, and 83 percent in 2013. In 2009, the rating was at 71 percent, the lowest since the survey was started 15 years ago.

In Russia, 41 percent have a favorable view of the United States under Trump, compared with 15 percent under Obama.

Israelis’ confidence in Trump was measured at 56 percent, compared to 49 percent for Obama at the end of his second four-year term. But the median showed 22 percent confidence in Trump and 64 percent in Obama.

The survey also found that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed said they considered Trump to be a strong leader, compared to a median of 55 percent. Some 54 percent of Israelis said Trump is well qualified to serve as president; the median was 26 percent.

Considering the border wall with Mexico, 42 percent of Israelis supported Trump’s idea, compared with 24 percent from all countries surveyed. On Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, 69 percent of Israelis were opposed, comparing to the 71 percent of the other countries surveyed.

“The sharp decline in how much global publics trust the U.S. president on the world stage is especially pronounced among some of America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada,” according to the survey.

Among close U.S. allies, in Germany, the favorability ranking for the U.S. has dropped to 11 percent under Trump from 86 under Obama; in France, 14 percent from 84 percent, and in Canada, 22 percent from 83 percent. Sweden saw a drop to 10 percent from 93 percent.

Among Middle East countries, the U.S. did not fare particularly well under either president, but again there was more confidence in Obama. Some numbers: Turkey 11 percent for Trump, 45 for Obama; Jordan, 5 percent and 14 percent, and Lebanon, 11 percent and 36 percent.

Many countries that have had poor relations with the U.S. over many years were not among those questioned, such as Syria and Iraq.

Why Mariah Carey is being grilled about an Israeli corruption scandal

Tue, 2017-06-27 16:57

Mariah Carey at a press conference for the Israeli cosmetics brand Premier Red Sea, in Tel Aviv, June 26, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Mariah Carey’s latest trip to Israel hasn’t been full of screaming fans and big stages.

She’s in Tel Aviv for business as the new face of the Premier Dead Sea cosmetics brand. During a press conference on Monday, she was grilled with questions about a past relationship — specifically how her ex-fiancé might be entangled in the corruption scandal dogging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The last time the Grammy winner was in Israel, in 2015, things were much different. Carey visited with James Packer, an Australian billionaire who was her then-fiancé. The couple had some fun at the Western Wall and met with an unnamed “spiritual leader” for guidance about their future. They also had a fancy private dinner with Netanyahu — a close friend of Packer’s — and his wife, Sara.

So why else is this Israel trip different for Carey? For one thing, she and Packer broke up last October.

Oh, and Packer has also since been linked to Netanyahu’s headline-grabbing corruption scandal.

Over the past year, Netanyahu has been accused of illegally taking lavish gifts from several of his rich supporters, such as billionaire Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. He also allegedly made a deal with Yediot Ahronoth, one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, so that the publication would cover him more favorably. Several dozen people have been questioned by Israeli police in connection to the investigations.

Netanyahu has denied the charges, saying he received gifts but not bribes.

Packer has been accused of giving Netanyahu’s oldest son Yair free hotel rooms and luxury flights, and he has been wanted for questioning in Israel since March. Rumors spread that Carey might be questioned by police at some point, but this is not actually the case, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

When asked about Packer’s current whereabouts, the diva had some choice words.

“I don’t know where the motherf—er is,” Carey Israel’s Channel 2 News. “How am I supposed to know? I don’t know, for real. I really have no idea about the political stuff that goes on, I don’t pay attention to it.”

Another interview with the Israeli entertainment show “Erev Tov” was shut down by her publicists.

“Oh, now they want to blame me? Someone wants to blame me for something now? What did I do? I didn’t do anything,” Carey said in the interview.

The ruffled pop star cancelled a reception she had planned for Tuesday night and is now only staying in Israel for a few days to fulfill her contractual obligations.

She does plan to visit the Dead Sea for the first time, and she’s bringing her six-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan (no typo there) along.

“I’m hoping they’ll have a good time and won’t get salt in their eyes,” Carey said Monday.

All she wants for Christmas is to be kept out of her ex’s corruption probes.

Gabe Pressman, pioneer of television reporting, dies at 93

Tue, 2017-06-27 16:27

(JTA) — Gabe Pressman, a pioneering TV newsman who was a fixture in New York City journalism for six decades, has died at 93.

Pressman, who died Friday, was one of the first reporters to take a camera crew into the streets for live coverage.

“All I know, I was alone out there. I was the only one holding the mike,” he told The New York Times in 1998.

Pressman became a reliable and engaging source for many New Yorkers who tuned into local stations like WNBC and WNEW.

He was honored with many accolades — 11 Emmy Awards, a Peabody and the George Polk Award — for his original reporting, uncovering topics like homelessness and the mentally ill. He also served as president of the New York Press Club from 1997 to 2000.

The Bronx native was the son of two Jewish immigrants who supported his deep interest in reporting. Pressman showed promise at a young age, having started a family newspaper at 8 or 9. He was known by family and friends for his love of all things news and public affairs. 

Pressman received his bachelor’s degree from New York University and his master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He served in the Navy as a communications officer from 1943 to 1946. Following World War II, Pressman toured Europe on the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship to report for Overseas News Agency, a subsidiary of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and The New York Times.

Beginning in 1956, Pressman was a daily reporter for WRCA-TV, the predecessor of WNBC, where he would serve for over half a century.

Peers and colleagues recognized Pressman for his ability to cover a wide range of issues, from subway accidents to election scandals, in a thorough yet tenacious manner. Pressman also interviewed a number of cultural and political icons throughout his career including Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Malcolm X, and politicians on the local and national level. 

In October 1982, during an interview from Jerusalem for WNBC-TV’s “News Forum,” Pressman asked then-opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres if Israel was guilty of “immorality” in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians by Christian Phalangist forces in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps of south Lebanon.

Peres replied: “I would never imagine in my darkest dreams that there would be a single Israeli that would ever give his hand to a massacre of innocent people. I don’t buy it.”

Pressman did not retire — until his last few days he was active at WNBC. 

“He was truly one of a kind and represented the very best in television news reporting,” Eric Lerner, the New York station’s president and general manager, said of Pressman’s legacy and influence. “Gabe was still coming to work and thinking about the next story. He was a treasured colleague and friend to all of us and he will be missed.”

Pressman is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.

$23 million recovered from estates of Bernard Madoff’s late sons

Tue, 2017-06-27 15:06

Bernard Madoff arriving at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, March 12, 2009. (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The estates of the late sons of Bernard Madoff have agreed to give up $23 million to help settle claims by victims of his massive Ponzi scheme.

The trustee recovering money for the victims, Irving Picard, reached an agreement with the estates of Andrew and Mark Madoff that would strip them of “all assets, cash, and other proceeds” related to the scheme, Reuters reported, citing a Monday court filing in Manhattan.

The agreement would leave the estate of Andrew Madoff, who died of cancer in 2014 at 48, with $2 million, and the estate of Mark Madoff, who committed suicide in 2010 at 46, with $1.75 million. The estates also agreed to withdraw more than $99 million in claims against their father’s bankrupt company, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The sons said they did not know about the scheme until their father informed them of it a few days before his arrest in December 2008. They were not criminally charged in the case.

Picard estimates that Madoff’s clients, many of them Jewish- and Israel-related philanthropies, as well as individual American Jews, lost $17.5 billion. He has recovered some $11.6 billion.

Bernard Madoff, 79, is serving a 150-year jail sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina.

PJ Library’s free books for kids spur Jewish connections, study finds

Tue, 2017-06-27 14:58

Harold Grinspoon, the founder of PJ Library, reads one of the program’s books with a gaggle of children. (PJ Library)

(JTA) — Families that receive free Jewish children’s books from the Massachusetts-based PJ Library say the program has helped them feel more connected to their Jewish communities, with interfaith families especially saying it has spurred them to celebrate Jewish holidays and Shabbat and to learn more about Judaism, a new study found.

The study, released Tuesday by PJ Library and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, found that 69 percent of participating families say the program has helped them feel more connected to their Jewish communities, whether by attending programs run by PJ library itself or activities run by local Jewish institutions.

Respondents also say the program helps them feel “more knowledgeable and confident” about how to engage in Jewish traditions with their children (83 percent), and 91 percent say the program is a valuable parenting tool.

More than half of intermarried couples who subscribe said the program makes their family more likely to observe Shabbat, and 64 percent said it makes them more likely to observe Jewish holidays. Nearly 90 percent of intermarried respondents said the books helped them learn more about Judaism, according to the triennial survey.

More than 25,000 users responded to the survey, which was conducted with the external evaluation firm Informing Change.

The program, launched in 2005 by the Grinspoon Foundation, now sends one book a month and occasional music CDs to 170,000 children ages 6 months to 8 years among 125,000 families in the United States and Canada. A parallel program, Sifriyat Pijama, operates in Israel. PJ Library estimates that its books are read 6.5 million times a year. Local Jewish federations and other institutions partner with the foundation in covering costs.

The findings confirm the goals of the program’s founders, who hoped that bringing parents and children together over Jewish-themed books would not just be worthwhile in its own right, but inspire them to connect with other Jewish programs and institutions.

“We take seriously that each night parents are inviting us to join their family during one of the day’s most treasured moments before bedtime,” Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, president of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, said in a statement. “Parents have told us that the PJ Library books their families receive each month not only help them feel more capable of raising Jewish children, but also make them more excited to pass on the traditions and beliefs they cherished in their own childhoods or have come to cherish as adults.”

The survey also found that subscribers’ had relatively high Jewish involvement. While the 2013 Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews found that 30 percent do not affiliate with a denomination, the number was only 10 percent for PJ Library subscribers.

And while the Pew study found that the intermarriage rate since 2000 is 58 percent, it’s less than half that, 28 percent, among PJ Library subscribers.

The study’s authors said they were not surprised that PJ Library families are more likely than the general population to be affiliated with Jewish organizations, since families usually hear about the program through synagogues, federations or Jewish community centers.

Among subscribers, satisfaction rates are high. Nearly two-thirds of subscribers, according to the study, read the books at least weekly, and 95 percent read them at least once a month. Virtually all respondents — 99 percent — said they have been “influenced or supported by PJ Library.” A majority of families responded that the books made them more likely to use a charity box or to increase their Jewish involvement in some other way, and 83 percent said it helps them feel more knowledgeable and confident about how to engage in Jewish traditions with their children .

“Books are a natural way to invite people into a global community and to pass values and traditions onto the next generation, ensuring our children and their children grow up connected to their Jewish heritage,” said Harold Grinspoon, a real estate developer in western Massachusetts and the founder of PJ Library.

Responses to the study, which was funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, were gathered between November 2016 and January 2017. The study had a 1 percent margin of error.

Rabbi found dead at Jewish summer camp

Tue, 2017-06-27 13:10

(JTA) — A haredi Orthodox rabbi was found dead at a Jewish camp in upstate New York.

Rabbi Pinchas Elya Weinberger, 38, was found on Monday morning dead in his bed at Kasho Camp in the Town of Wawarsing, New York.

An investigation by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office found that the rabbi died of natural causes. The exact cause of death was not made public.

Weinberger reportedly worked at the Satmar Yeshiva in Monsey, N.Y. His father, Hillel Weinberger of Monsey, New York.

US, Israel sign new cybersecurity agreement

Tue, 2017-06-27 12:49

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and the United States signed a new bilateral cybersecurity partnership.

The partnership agreement signed by  U.S. President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Adviser, Thomas Bossert and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, following a meeting on Monday. White House Cybersecurity Advisor Rob Joyce also attended the meeting.

Bossert currently is in Israel for the annual Cyber Week Conference held at Tel Aviv University.

Under the agreement, the counties will establish joint working groups on international cyber policy, critical infrastructure defense, research and development, and human capital development.

Bossert told the conference during a speech on Monday evening that the partnership is aimed at “stopping adversaries in networks and identifying ways to hold bad actors responsible.”

The agreement was signed in the wake of a meeting between Netanyahu and Trump in Jerusalem in May, during which such issues were discussed.

“We are experiencing every month dozens of cyber-attacks on the national level. At any given moment, including right now, there are probably 3-5 attacks on the national level that emanate from various sources,” Netanyahu told the conference.

Israel strikes 2 Hamas targets in Gaza hours after rocket attack on southern Israel

Tue, 2017-06-27 11:15

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Air Force struck two targets in Gaza hours after a rocket launched from the coastal strip landed in southern Israel.

A rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council on Monday night. The rocket caused no injuries or damage, according to the IDF.

The Code Red siren warning of an incoming strike did not sound since the rocket was headed toward an unpopulated area.

Israel responded with attacks on two Hamas military targets, one in northern Gaza and one in southern Gaza, early Tuesday morning, the IDF said. No injuries were reported in the retaliatory strikes.

“Since the terror organization Hamas is the ruler of the Gaza Strip, it is responsible for any attempt to harm the State of Israel,” the IDF said in a statement following the strikes.

The last time rockets were fired from Gaza on southern Israel was in March.