JTA

Syndicate content Jewish Telegraphic Agency
The Global Jewish News Source
Updated: 56 min 13 sec ago

Jewish congressional candidate’s signs vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti in suburban NY

Thu, 2020-10-15 15:25

(JTA) — At least a dozen campaign signs supporting a Jewish congressional candidate were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.

At least one sign supporting Josh Eisen’s campaign was tagged with the words “Nazi lover,” according to News12, a local station in Westchester County.

“I wouldn’t think someone would have to go through some criminal proceeding over this, but someone needs to understand this is unacceptable and despicable,” Eisen said.

Eisen is running as an independent to represent New York’s 17th congressional district, an area north of New York City that covers Rockland County and part of Westchester and has a large Jewish population. The solidly Democratic district is currently represented by retiring Democrat Nita Lowey, who is Jewish.

The congressional race is expected to be won by the Democratic nominee, Mondaire Jones, whose campaign spokesperson said in a statement to News 12 that they “wholeheartedly condemn all hate” and “take all acts of anti-Semitism very seriously.”

Eisen originally ran as a Republican but withdrew from the primary after facing allegations of racism and inappropriate conduct. According to evidence from a past lawsuit reported by City & State New York, he has used the n-word in emails and once wrote to the wife of a legal opponent that she would “bathe in the warm semen of Mengele,” a reference to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele,

The post Jewish congressional candidate’s signs vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti in suburban NY appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The traditional Jewish prayer Gal Gadot says every day

Thu, 2020-10-15 14:44

This article originally appeared in Kveller.

Vanity Fair just released an incredible, comprehensive interview with “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot. There are a lot of fun tidbits about the Israeli actress’ career, her somewhat unpopular stint singing “Imagine” with other celebrities early in the pandemic, feminism and her propensity for ending sentences with “dadadada” (apparently its Gadot’s version of “yada yada yada“).

There’s also some truly excellent pictures that were shot with an all-Israeli crew at Caesarea beach. Oh, and Gadot also made a video as part of the article on Hebrew slang words.

As an Israeli, Gadot is very open about her Jewish identity, speaking out against anti-Semitism, sharing pictures of her family celebrating Jewish holidays, and talking about how her grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, impacted her life. And, at the end of the Vanity Fair piece, she talks about how one Jewish prayer in particular helps keep her grounded.

“I say thank you every morning. In the Jewish culture, there’s a prayer that you’re supposed to say every time you wake up in the morning to thank God for, you know, keeping you alive and dadadada. You say “modeh ani,” which means ‘I give thanks,’” she told Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales. “So every morning I wake up and step out of bed and I say, ‘Thank you for everything, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Nothing is to be taken for granted.”

Modeh Ani is, of course, the traditional Jewish prayer recited upon waking up each day. It offers thanks to God for letting us regain consciousness after a long night’s sleep.

“I thank You, living and enduring King, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is Your faithfulness,” is one translation of prayer’s Hebrew text.

It’s so lovely to think of this super successful Jewish actress — the third highest-paid actress this year, according to Forbesoffering gratitude to God every day.

Gadot’s career is seriously on fire, and she has many incredible upcoming roles: the anticipated reprise of Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984, playing Jewish actress and inventor Hedy Lammar  and portraying Holocaust hero Irena Sendler. Then there’s her newly announced controversial upcoming role as Cleopatra. (Another Jewish star who played the role, despite controversy, was Elizabeth Taylor). Yet, at the end — or, rather, the beginning — of each day, she doesn’t take anything for granted.

As a mom, I have to also thank Gadot for her very relatable and very real pronouncements on parenthood: “I’m all types of moms. It depends what days you’re asking,” she told the magazine. “I’m very connected to them and I’m very warm, and I make sure to keep the channels of communication open and we always talk about feelings and stuff like that. And then sometimes I let go and don’t interrupt them because I’ve learned when you’re too involved you can actually create problems.”

“I can be hysterical at times,” she says. “I can be goofy. We laugh a lot. I can have a lot of patience, but then when I lose it, it’s not great.”

She adds, laughing: “I think that every mom can relate to this, that once you have a baby, you get a huge sack of guilt, which is something that I’m dealing with all the time. But I realized I can only try and be the best version of a mom that I can be. So I just try to do my best and give them everything that I can.”

I’m very much feeling the “huge sack of guilt” right now — thanks, pandemic parenting! But it’s nice to know that someone like Gadot feels it, too. Stars: They’re just like us, plus regal seaside photoshoots.

The post The traditional Jewish prayer Gal Gadot says every day appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

HBO Max to air Yom Kippur War drama ‘Valley of Tears,’ Israel’s biggest-budget TV series ever

Thu, 2020-10-15 00:31

(JTA) — HBO Max has bought the rights to “Valley of Tears,” a drama about the 1973 Yom Kippur War that is being touted as Israel’s biggest-budget TV series to date.

The 10-part series depicts the war through the eyes of young soldiers through four different plot lines. No premiere date has yet been announced.

It stars Lior Ashkenazi, familiar to international audiences from his role in Israel’s acclaimed film “Foxtrot” and his work opposite Richard Gere in “Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer.”

There is significant talent behind the scenes as well: It was created and co-written by Israeli-American writer Ron Leshem, who wrote HBO’s “Euphoria,” and Amit Cohen, who wrote the popular Israeli thriller series “False Flag.” The pair are also already at work on another Israeli series called “Traitor,” a thriller currently in post-production.

The post HBO Max to air Yom Kippur War drama ‘Valley of Tears,’ Israel’s biggest-budget TV series ever appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Al Gross, Jewish doctor who killed a bear, has raised $9M in Alaska’s tight Senate race

Wed, 2020-10-14 23:00

(JTA) — Al Gross, the Jewish Alaska physician running to defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, raised an eye-popping $9.1 million in the last quarter, funds fueled in part by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Gross, who is running as an Independent but has been endorsed by Democrats, has been neck and neck with Sullivan in polls since late August in what is usually a solidly Republican state, making the infusion of funds especially potent.

The fundraising total is astonishing in Alaska’s small media market; by way of comparison, the Anchorage Daily News reported recently that the Democrat Sullivan ousted in 2014, Mark Begich, raised less than $9 million over the two years ahead of the election.

The Sullivan campaign did not release its quarterly figures, except to say that Gross had out-raised them.

The Gross campaign said donations surged after Ginsburg, the Jewish liberal Supreme Court justice, died last month. Democrats were furious that Senate Republicans are rushing to replace her before the presidential election.

Gross, whose father Avrum was once the state’s attorney general, was already mounting a formidable challenge against Sullivan, who has allied himself closely with President Donald Trump.

Gross’ policy focus is healthcare reform. His character focus is his upbringing as an Alaskan, born just after an avalanche, and a TV ad notes that “he killed a grizzly bear in self-defense.” Also, he prospected for gold.

The Anchorage Daily News confirmed the bear-killing story, and in the process discovered that a conservative opposition research outfit sought to confirm it as well.

The post Al Gross, Jewish doctor who killed a bear, has raised $9M in Alaska’s tight Senate race appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Chilean protest against a new constitution was filled with anti-Semitism

Wed, 2020-10-14 21:30

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — A march on Saturday against the movement for a new constitution in Chile contained Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols, slogans and gestures.

Some protesters at the march in Las Condes, a municipality located in Chile’s Santiago province, wore Nazi symbols and made Hitler salutes. Others flew flags with swastikas and shirts with the initials ATP, short for “Aun Tenemos Patria,” or “We still have a homeland.” It’s a slogan used by the nationalist anti-immigration ATP movement, whose slogan is “Chile for Chileans.” The movement states that it is “openly anti-globalist and against progressivism and its political correctness.”

“Germany 1930? No, Chile Oct 2020. Hate takes over the streets of Chile,” tweeted Marcelo Isaacson, the executive director of Comunidad Judia de Chile, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization.

Alemania 1930? No, Chile oct 2020. El odio se apodera de las calles de Chile. @comjudiachile rechazamos manifestaciones y discursos de odio proclamados por grupos neonazis hoy en Santiago. pic.twitter.com/3Zfd18q4Sk

— Marcelo Isaacson (@marcelo_1811) October 10, 2020

Since last year, Chile, which has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the western hemisphere, has been rocked by protests calling for a new constitution. Critics of the government say that leftover rules in place from the period of autocratic rule under Augusto Pinochet hamper social change.

Israel’s Ambassador to Chile Marina Rosenberg and other Jewish organizations followed suit in condemning the march.

“Enough! Basta! It is shameful that a rally against reforming the Chilean constitution included Nazi salutes and anti-Israel signs. The Chilean government must do more to fight antisemitism and all forms of hate,” tweeted the American Jewish Committee.

Protesters expressed anti-Israel sentiment at the march as well. According to Comunidad Judia de Chile President Gerardo Gorodischer, there are nearly 500,000 Palestinians and their descendants in Chile. The overwhelming majority are Christian and have immigrated from West Bank villages.

The post A Chilean protest against a new constitution was filled with anti-Semitism appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Danish Jewish cemetery vandalism was allegedly ordered by Swedish neo-Nazi, prosecutors say

Wed, 2020-10-14 21:23

(JTA) — The vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Denmark last year was allegedly ordered by a Swedish neo-Nazi leader, according to text messages revealed at the trial of the alleged perpetrators.

The trial of Soren Lau Kjeldal and Jacob Vullum Andersen, which opened Friday in the city of Randers 120 miles northwest of Copenhagen, implicates a Swedish man, Simon Lindberg, whom prosecutors say was a leader in the Nordic Resistance Movement. According to information presented in court, Lindberg called for a major action against Jews last year on Nov. 9, the anniversary of the 1938 rampage against Jews in Germany known as Kristallnacht.

“Important information. A directive has been issued by Simon Lindberg, all Nordic countries are joining forces for a pan-Nordic action on Kristallnacht,” read one text message that Andersen forwarded to other activists, the Redox news site reported. “We are looking for Jews or businesses owned by real Jews. Not half-Jews or Zionists. Your task for the next month is to find out if there are any Jewish targets in your area. This is top secret information.”

Andersen and Kjeldal have pleaded not guilty.

More than 80 headstones were overturned and defaced with green paint at the Ostre Kirkegard cemetery in Randers last November. The vandalism was reported on Nov. 9. The same day, a family in Silkeborg, about 28 miles from Randers, awoke to find a large sticker bearing a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude” stuck to their mailbox. Jude is the German word for “Jew.”

Last month, Nordic Resistance Movement activists held rallies outside Jewish sites across Scandinavia on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The group is also responsible for the dissolution in 2017 of a Jewish organization in Umea, Sweden.

The post Danish Jewish cemetery vandalism was allegedly ordered by Swedish neo-Nazi, prosecutors say appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

What is a ‘moser’? The ugly, complicated history of Judaism’s most dangerous accusation

Wed, 2020-10-14 20:16

(JTA) — The intermediate days of Sukkot in the holy city of Brooklyn are normally a time of singing, prayer and communal fellowship. This year the celebrations were marred by violence. 

Egged on by a rabble-rousing individual who literally wore a political bumper sticker on his chest, a crowd of angry haredi Orthodox Jews protested coronavirus restrictions, burning masks and denouncing government authorities. Police, wary of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests but unaccustomed to angry mobs of Hasidim in their Yom Tov finery, were unprepared for the melee. 

Scenes of the demonstrations were widely circulated on social media, including sporadic episodes of shameful violence. In one notorious bit of cellphone footage, a Yiddish-inflected curse was repeatedly thrown at Jacob Kornbluh, a Hasidic reporter for Jewish Insider. With his back to a wall and surrounded by Hasidim, the threatening crowd chanted “moser, moser, moser!” as jarring, festive holiday music blared incongruously in the background. Barely protected by a handful of police officers, Kornbluh fled the scene, chased away by a surging mass of kaftans and stiff-brimmed black hats.

Incredible.

What, exactly, is a moser? The term “snitch” was also thrown at the hapless writer, but the translation doesn’t come close. 

Moser (also pronounced “moiser”) literally means “one who hands over,” in the sense of one who informs or turns over a Jew to the secular authorities. The term is laden with portent in Jewish law: roughly parallel to a rodef (“pursuer”), a moser is worthy of the death penalty. 

Maimonides wrote in the 12th century that “an informer may be slain anywhere, even at the present time when Jewish courts do not try capital cases. It is permissible to slay him before he has informed…. it is a religious duty to slay him; whoever hastens to kill him attains merit.” There should be no misunderstanding here: Maimonides was writing in a particular social context, prevalent for much of the past two millennia, when Jews constituted a tiny Diasporic minority subject to the whim of often hostile, capricious and brutal governments. 

Halachic authorities like Rabbi Herschel Schachter, head of school at Yeshiva University’s REITS seminary, have been quick to declare that this law does not apply in modern, democratic societies: Reporting criminal behavior to police, or even tax evasion to the IRS, does not make one a hated “moser.” Maimonides’ ruling is more comprehensible in the context of Nazi Germany, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or perhaps Stalin’s Russia. The distinction between “informant” and “slanderer” is unimportant — the simple act of delivering a fellow Jew into the hands of an anti-Semitic autocratic regime is a crime in and of itself.

Jewish history is unfortunately well-populated with contemptible individuals who seek self-promotion by slandering the Jewish community in more public forums. From Nicholas Donin in the 13th century, who initiated literally centuries of anti-Semitic fodder when he denounced the Talmud before Pope Gregory IX, to Jacob Brafman, whose salacious 1869 “Book of the Kahal” outlined anti-Jewish themes that would be exploited by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and even Hitler himself, there have always been Jews whose personal careers were built on putative, tendentious “exposes” of Jewish society. 

No wonder the term “moser” is perhaps the most hated epithet one can apply to a Jew — part traitor, part informant, wholly despicable.

But it is hard to understand the ugly events of Brooklyn last week in terms that would even approach the threshold of rendering anyone a moser. The actions of the state — in this case, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov Andrew Cuomo — were clearly motivated by a desire to protect the Hasidic community, and the broader population, from a deadly virus that took the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers this spring. Their imposition of the New Cluster Action Initiative threatened economic, social and religious hardships for certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens (including, incidentally, my own), but only the most extreme opponents of the measure would argue it was more than heavy-handed governance. 

Even those who argue that the government measures are draconian and unnecessary would find it hard to justify the unlawful, physical attack on fellow Jews.

If anything, the historical precedent was closer to that of early 19th century Russia, when Tsarist authorities imposed a major reform of the Jewish educational system. Liberal Enlightenmentoriented Jews like Max Lilienthal were convinced at the Tsar’s sincerity and supported the effort to bring the Jews into the modern era. Appointed a special advisor in the Count Uvarov’s Ministry of Education, Lilienthal nevertheless faced withering opposition from traditionalist Jews who saw the plan as a thinly veiled attempt to convert Russia’s Jews to Christianity (they were not entirely wrong). Within five years, Lilienthal resigned his position and moved to Germany and then Cincinnati, where he served as a rabbi of a Reform congregation.

By the turn of the 21st century, the slur of “moser” served primarily as a rallying cry and justification for those who intend extrajudicial violence and seek to silence legitimate opposition. When Yigal Amir, for example, gunned down Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, he called Rabin a moser for his peace efforts with the Palestinians. It’s used as a tool of intimidation against victims of sexual abuse who may be tempted to report their abusers to the authorities. 

Branding a Jew as a moser is, historically speaking, a dangerous charge with horrific, real-world implications. A crowd recklessly chanting “moser, moser, moser” is terrifying, especially in our era of cell phones, social media and WhatsApp. 

Yitzchok Kornbluh, father of the journalist under attack, painfully noted the life-threatening implications of the observed that the irresponsible application of the term moser is literally life-threatening: “All you need is one crazed person to take that “Mitzva” on board,” he wrote, ending with the Hebrew phrase “chas ve’sholom,” Heaven forbid.

Chas ve’sholom indeed.

The post What is a ‘moser’? The ugly, complicated history of Judaism’s most dangerous accusation appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Nationalist marchers in Kyiv protest occupation of Ukraine by ‘Jewish clan’

Wed, 2020-10-14 19:05

(JTA) — Participants in a nationalist march in Ukraine raised a banner decrying the country’s “occupation and robbery” by a “Jewish clan.”

The banner, aimed at Ukraine’s Jewish president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, appeared Wednesday at the annual OUN-UPA March, which is named for Ukrainian nationalist movements that for a time sided with Adolf Hitler against the Soviet Union.

“Celebrating the anniversary of the occupation and robbery of Ukraine by the Dnipro Jewish clan of Vova Zelensky,” the read the billboard-sized banner that was displayed in front of Zelensky’s office.

Zelensky, who was elected last year, has implicitly criticized the glorification of wartime collaborators, telling the Times of Israel earlier this year that it would be better to name monuments and streets in the country after people “whose names do not provoke conflict.” Dnipro is a city in eastern Ukraine with a large Jewish community.

Mikhail Tkach, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, said the banner was an act of incitement and called on authorities to punish those responsible for it.

Other symbols on display at the march included the logo of the ultranationalist Azov Battalion and a banner that read “White Lives Matter.”

Separately, Kyiv’s department of culture sent a letter to a prominent rabbi in Kyiv asking him to hold prayers for “defenders of Ukraine of all generations” on Oct. 14. That date is a national holiday known as both Defender of Ukraine Day and the Day of the Cossacks, a Slavic group that perpetrated pogroms against Jews in the early 20th century. Many Ukrainian Jews objected to the establishment of Oct. 14 as a national holiday in 2015.

Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, criticized the letter, which was apparently sent to multiple clergymen, calling in “bizarre.”

Dolinsky said the reference to “all generations” meant the city was asking Jews to pray for Bogdan Khmelnitsky, the 17th-century Cossak leader whose army killed countless Jews, as well as 20th century Nazi collaborators.

It is reminiscent “of Soviet times when the party bureaucrats instructed working collectives how to celebrate the Bolshevik revolution,” Dolinsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The post Nationalist marchers in Kyiv protest occupation of Ukraine by ‘Jewish clan’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Ginni Thomas, activist and Supreme Court justice’s wife, says George Soros’ family ‘is really running the Democrat Party’

Wed, 2020-10-14 18:35

(JTA) — The latest prominent American to advance conspiracy theories about Jewish philanthropist George Soros: Ginni  Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ginni Thomas shared a meme on Facebook Wednesday claiming that Soros’ family is “evil” and “really running” the Democratic party.

The meme, first posted by a right-wing page called “The Great American Movement,” shows a compilation of photos of Democratic figures posing with children of Soros, the Jewish-American hedge-funder and Democratic megadonor. The Democrats include Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; and Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential nominee.

A caption reads, “Who is really running the Democrat Party? …The Soros family. The original post also says, “George Soros is training his family to carry on his evil legacy…”

Soros has become the leading avatar of right-wing conspiracy theories that veer into anti-Semitism. Republican officials and activists, as well as far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists, regularly assert with scant or no evidence that he is secretly funding, or in control of, a broad array of liberal causes, or otherwise out to undermine the United States government. He is among the top funders of Democratic candidates, but is not the largest giver.

The idea that rich Jews are conspiring to secretly control world leaders is an age-old anti-Semitic stereotype.

Thomas has a history of sharing falsehoods from The Great American Movement Facebook page. In the past, she has shared false posts from the page accusing Democrats of committing voter fraud, calling California a “war zone” and claiming that Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump campaign.

This year, following repeated calls from civil rights activists, Facebook is aiming to crack down on anti-Semitic content. It has announced that it will ban posts about Jews controlling the world; pages promoting the anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy theory; and posts denying or distorting the Holocaust.

The post Ginni Thomas, activist and Supreme Court justice’s wife, says George Soros’ family ‘is really running the Democrat Party’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Anti-Semitism, white supremacy and swords: Talia Lavin dives into the most hateful corners of the internet

Wed, 2020-10-14 17:12

This piece originally appeared in Alma.

After over a year of immersing herself into the darkest depths of white supremacy on the internet, Talia Lavin remains hopeful. Lavin, a Jewish reporter, went undercover into some of the most toxic chatrooms the “alt-right” has to offer — and is now telling her story, and the story of the rise of white supremacy in America, in “Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy.”

“When I became the target of the far right, I felt my identity sort of burning inside of me,” Lavin explained to me one afternoon in late August. “As a Jewish woman, I was the brunt of all this anti-Semitism and misogyny. The misogyny is very overt — the threats and abuses are incredibly sexualized. It’s very keyed to my appearance. It’s really hard to disentangle these things, but because of my identity, I was targeted with a viciousness. And because of that viciousness, I decided to turn around and dive in. Not to disengage, but rather to turn towards the darkness — and to fight it.”

Lavin, who previously worked for Alma’s parent company 70 Faces Media, credits her experience at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as something that made her “re-conceive of anti-Semitism as something that was alive and present, and particularly thriving, on the internet.”

Talia Lavin (Image by Yonit Lavin)

We discussed going undercover, social media platforms, bringing white supremacists into “the light” and collecting swords, among many other things.

This conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

I love how, in the intro of your book, you write that to describe white supremacists is deprive them of the power to organize in total darkness — that writing about them is bringing them into the light. Can you talk about this concept?

One of the things that the people who are attracted to far right extremism crave is inspiring fear — being the boogeyman. And I [do] think they are quite dangerous. But to give them this mystique, and to say it’s this insurmountable problem — that it’s not even worth understanding the details — gives them the power that they haven’t earned, and shouldn’t have.

When you really delve into the details, when you look at the roots, when you expose where these sentiments are coming from, what they’re rooted in, who is expressing them and why, you get a better sense of the threat, and you also rob it of this sense of mystery. That is so crucial. So much of far right extremist imagery is the skull mask, the shields, and these sort of elements of disguise. When you pull off that skull mask, and you show the face beneath, I think that you rob them of the power of that sort of vicious Cheshire grin.

How do you personally navigate the internet and social media? How do you deal with your trolls?

Well, I collect swords and I have a crippling panic disorder.

No, but seriously. I got my first sword courtesy of my dad at a “Lord of the Rings” convention at age 14. And then on my 30th birthday, I went to Medieval Times. I started researching this book and I said, I want to get a sword. I was starting to encounter these stories of anti-fascists and journalists who’d had their families threatened — even people coming to their houses, and my parents had received a threat — and I just said, I would like a blade. And then over the course of the past year, I’ve acquired two more. So I now have three swords, and a dagger, that I keep with me, wherever I live. I’m not like a sword wielding expert — I mostly use them for selfies. But I know a few basic moves, and it gives me probably a false sense of security, but at least a sense of like, if someone comes at me, I will grab my blade and have something to parry with.

And then, I have a lot of panic attacks. I’m very outwardly bold and fearless, [but] on the inside, I’m a writhing mass of neurosis held together by tape and glue. But I think if I had to decide whether to dive into this world again, knowing the internal chaos it has provoked, I would do it again.

In the book you write about going undercover into white supremacist chat rooms. How did you keep yourself calm and sane while spending time in these really terrible forums?

I would say saying that I was calm and sane is a bold assumption on your part. But I had comrades. That was the biggest thing. There’s a group of women who I partially dedicated the book to, who are women who cover the far right. And we’ve all faced — some people much more grotesque extremes than me — the sexualized violence of covering this stuff. Having that camaraderie, having those people who understood, was vital. I have the full support of my parents, who would let me just treat myself on their couch and shake.

What about the logistics of going undercover?

Keeping track of the different identities was sometimes a challenge. There are several personas that didn’t make it into the book — entire personas with back stories — just because the research didn’t go far enough. I had a whole “alt-right” woman Facebook profile where I was trying to get into the women of the “alt-right,” and that proved a little more difficult because they are simply less stupid than their compatriots — or have a little less recklessness, typically. At times, I had to consciously remind myself, okay, who am I today? And, what’s my story today? That was definitely interesting. At the same time, so much of my socializing is online, so I was like, Okay, and now I’m Talia again. It was this sort of interestingly fractured consciousness.

At a certain point, as I mentioned in the book, I did have an acrid pleasure in the duplicity of saying, I am exactly who you consider your worst enemy and the type of person that would provoke the most disgust and here I am, having these intimate conversations with you and entering into your hideous circle of camaraderie. That was almost satisfying.

This is gonna sound like a weird question, but did you get any joy — joy might be the wrong word — out of researching this? Were there any moments over the course of researching and writing the book that you were like, ‘hell yeah’?

That moment when the culmination of a five-month operation — when I seduced this Ukrainian neo-Nazi — and he gave me a picture of his face with a license plate of his car, where he lived. He was just totally open to me, and my story was ridiculous! I was like, I’m blonde, I’ve learned Russian. We did these voice notes; I would put on this fake voice that was an octave higher and a little more eloquent than mine, and I would record them in Russian and Ukrainian for him. I said that I learned Russian and Ukrainian in order to go to Donbass, Ukraine and meet white supremacists who were fighting on the front lines. It was the most absurd backstory in the world and this guy was just so horny or whatever that he fell for it.

He really bared his soul to me, and then I gave it right to bellingcat. He totally had an implosion. He tried to bribe the journalists. He deleted all his profile pictures. The chat that he had co-moderated, for a time, collapsed and started putting out all these messages like, don’t be dumb, avoid women. That really gave me a sense of satisfaction, because I feel it is a part of anti-fascist work to sow dissension and prevent coherence in these groups that encourage terror.

The man that I spoke to was constantly sending me photos of guns, of violent video game screenshots where he named his AK-47 “Die Muslims,” talking about how to assemble Pythons. It wasn’t an edge case, where I was like, oh, this is just some kid. He had directly organized to the translation and dissemination of [Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton] Tarrant’s manifesto into Russian and Ukrainian, which was being distributed and featured in photos with extremist groups around Eastern Europe. So, I didn’t feel bad. That was a triumph of holy shit, it worked. And that moment where I said to him, “Hey, I have something I need to tell you. I’m an anti-fascist and you’re about to be exposed, you motherfucker”… that was pretty good.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists encircle counterprotesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11, 2017. (Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On the flip side of that, what did you find to be the hardest moment throughout this process?

A lot of it was hard. One was that moment where I opened up one of the most violent chats on Telegram and found that it was an entire discussion about whether I was too ugly to rape. That was not a great day.

I was really struck by the idea you expand on in the book, that “no hate is an island.” You write, “radicalized misogyny had led users straight into the arms of white supremacy, with its anti-Semitism…” Can you speak more on this idea — on how all these hatreds are inextricably linked?

One of the things I learned — and this I personally learned when I was an extremism researcher at Media Matters — was how to recognize a hate site. For that job, every single day, I went through an array of different extremist news sites and forums and wrote up a newsletter of basically “what is the far right talking about today.” Is there a persistent featuring and foregrounding of news stories about a group that you’re demonizing? I noticed that on the incel sites, there was always, every time I visited, reporting [on] crimes by women. And so I said, this is very similar to the hate sites I visited, it’s just directed towards women — half of humanity. In other words, the techniques of dehumanization were very similar. And then I started delving deeper into those sites themselves, and realized white supremacists are actively recruiting here, even though it’s pretty evenly divided between white and non-white. Yet, because these are communities organized around radicalization, organized around hated, pretty much everything is all lined up.

Anti-feminism is very often an entrée to the broader “alt-right” and far right. It’s a very soft sell to men who might feel alienated, and even some women who might feel like, we still get a pretty raw deal in this world. So blaming everything that’s wrong on feminism — like, “oh, they’re putting too many women in action movies” or “I don’t like that video games are covering up boobies” — that process is basically saying: question social orthodoxy, question these narratives that are supposed to lead to social justice, and here are the ways they’re hurting you, the downtrodden man.

If you start from there, there are many other orthodoxies that seem ripe for questioning: Is racism really bad? Are the Jews controlling the world? Once you start someone down a journey of “here’s how you’ve been harmed by these purported socially just ideologies, the reason for your malaise and dissatisfaction,” it’s a long, greasy slope with plenty of people ready to lube up the way for you, straight down into the pit.

Do you think social media platforms and internet providers should be doing more about Nazis and white supremacists and the “alt-right”? And if so, what should they be doing?

Yes, is the long and short of it.

Just to bring it up to the present day, the events that directly led to the shooting of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin was reported 455 times to Facebook and was not removed. I think Facebook in particular has made peace with far right extremism on its platform. And that is a very dangerous thing that they’re doing. It’s a deal with the devil they’ve made: It maximizes their profit, but it is very harmful to the body politic. Twitter has been better, they’ve worked harder, but there are many, many, many Nazis flourishing on their platform as well.

ISPs [internet service providers] in general — I mean every single hate site that I go to has service providers. To me, if you’re enabling Nazi speech, you are more of an ideological fellow traveler than you might claim to be. Nazis were using the internet very early on. In the ’80s, the Klan had a website. They very quickly realized it was a way to propagandize and to recruit with relative anonymity.

In creating these social media platforms, it’s not as if this problem couldn’t have been anticipated. The Silicon Valley mentality of “grow fast and break things,” well, a lot of people have been broken by doxxing, harassment, swatting, by racial abuse, by misogynistic abuse. A lot of people self censor, a lot of people leave, a lot of people face the experience of having the roof torn off your life where you’re suddenly a star on the far right for usually something relatively innocuous.

I am not a gajillionaire tech executive, but I think content moderation has to be taken more seriously and given more resources — and not given out to contractors who get pennies on the dollar and no mental health support. It has to be as integral as UI, as the other aspects of the social media experience that get so much money and attention.

How does it feel to release “Culture Warlords” at this particular moment in time, in this sort of heightened atmosphere of hate? 

The regretful part of publishing a book about current events is that there’s inevitably a months-long lag between when you finish and when you publish. As I was putting the very finishing touches on the book, it was about maybe a week, or just after, the George Floyd protests had begun. So in a way, it felt like I am writing a book for a world that has already changed. The book is already obsolete.

But, some of the underlying narratives that I talk about — particularly in the ways white nationalist rhetoric inevitably leads to violence, and the ways in which accelerationism has taken over and edged out electoralism on the far right — I think that holds true, and I think that can hopefully provide some valuable insight into readers as to why this radicalization keeps amping up and why these violent incidents keep happening.

We’ve had 500 separate attacks on protesters since the George Floyd protests began — car attacks, mace-ings, beatings, shootings — and three deaths, [caused] by paramilitary and armed far right activists. That is just going to keep accelerating, particularly with the explicit encouragement of the Republican political establishment, including the president. While I inevitably have been outpaced by the news, what I lay out are some of the fundamental dynamics that are driving these headlines. To my regret, the book will only become more true.

With regards to the anti-fascist chapter, I felt a bit of hope, like, wow, there’s people really out there fighting for better. Do you have any hope for where this country is headed? It’s okay if the answer is no.

I would say that any hope I have is from my comrades, from camaraderie. From knowing that there are people who have done this work before I was born, who will keep doing it after I die. To feel like you’re part of a link in a chain of people who stand up and say, no, I won’t allow this. Who say that with their bodies, who say that with their actions, and who say that with their words. I am awed by the bravery of the people I encountered researching this book and beyond it.

The hope is in the people.

The post Anti-Semitism, white supremacy and swords: Talia Lavin dives into the most hateful corners of the internet appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Registration, lawyers and patience: How Jewish groups are protecting voting access in 2020

Wed, 2020-10-14 17:11

(JTA) — If you’re in Arizona or Florida and a 585 area code pops up on your phone, you might want to answer: It could be a Jewish volunteer in Rochester, New York, whose mission it is to help you vote.

The Greater Rochester Jewish Federation is one of a number of local and national Jewish organizations endeavoring to make sure eligible voters — Jewish and not — get to the polls.

The organizations are for the most part tax-exempt and by necessity nonpartisan, but the virtual thumbtacks on their maps coincide with battlegrounds where Democrats have pushed back against what they say are Republican efforts to diminish minority turnout.

“The goal is really to register disenfranchised voters, specifically minority communities where access to proper information on voting access, to voter education, all the stuff that you need to be informed, and really to vote in general is really at an all-time low,” said Sarah Walters, the federation’s community relations director.

Volunteers are trained to explain how to safely mail in votes, where President Donald Trump and his associates have sowed distrust in the method through false claims of fraud. They are suing to expand early voting opportunities where Republicans are shutting them down. Where Trump is asking acolytes to watch polls, Jewish groups are training volunteers to de-escalate confrontation at polls. Where Trump says he wants the election called Nov. 3, Jewish organizations are telling voters that a wait is likely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy groups, has helped Jewish Community Relations Councils in eight states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and  Wisconsin — partner with “All Voting is Local,” a voter registration project run by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“We’re committed to the protection of people and the right to vote,” she said. “But it’s a fine line to walk this year because of the extreme partisan nature of the landscape.”

Here are some of the protective measures Jewish groups are taking ahead of Election Day.

Registering de-registered voters

Republican-led states have in recent years removed from the rolls voters who have not voted for several successive elections. Democrats and voting rights activists say that because turnout is traditionally lower among minorities and people living in poverty, the action amounts to disenfranchisement.

National and local Jewish organizations are partnering with voting rights groups to tell voters in states who may have been stricken off the rolls how to get back on.

The Rochester federation partnered with Reclaim the Vote, a project of Center for Common Ground, a voting rights group. (The Reform movement also has partnered with Reclaim the Vote.) Walters said that 150 Jewish volunteers in her city have trained so far to reach deregistered voters in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

“You’ve got a script right in front of you that is county-specific and person-specific with all the information they need to figure out if they’re registered,” Walters said. “If they believe that they are registered — in many cases people have registered before but have been removed from voter rolls for not voting enough — you’re making sure that they know how to check that and if they aren’t registered, you’re making sure they have the resources they need to find out that they’re eligible to register.”

Mitigating suppression by increasing turnout

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism wants an “overwhelming” turnout, said its director, Rabbi Jonah Pesner.

“It erodes the possibility of the attempts to either delegitimize” the election “or targeted suppression,” Pesner said. “If there is an overwhelming turnout of lower-income communities and communities of color, then that will mitigate against a lot of what will be attempts at voter suppression, like if you close polling places.”

Supporters Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden show their support before the vice presidential debate outside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 7, 2020. (George Frey AFP via Getty Images)

The pandemic means door-knocking is not the option it was in past elections, so Reform volunteers have used electronic means to reach voters, through texting and apps. “We had originally set as our goal 250,000 voter engagements,” Pesner said. “We’ve engaged 350,000 and we’re on track to get to half a million by Election Day.”

The outreach is strategic, Pesner said, citing as an example the RAC chapter in Chicago. Illinois, solidly Democratic, does not pose a disenfranchisement threat, so the local Reform Jewish activists consulted with longtime allies in Black churches. They joined efforts to reach voters in neighboring Wisconsin, which is a critical swing state, and where Republican legislators have sought to inhibit mail-in voting and have limited polling places.

“Knowing that there would be attacks on enfranchisement in the inner city of Milwaukee in particular, this kind of interesting intersectional effort was born between the relationships that pre-existed in Chicago,” he said.

Bringing out the lawyers

Pesner’s RAC is also recruiting lawyers to join a project run by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to be on call until Election Day to report attempts at voter suppression.

“The hotline has already become almost overwhelmed with calls,” said Pesner. “And obviously the Reform community is uniquely positioned to deliver lawyers.”

Sheila Katz, who directs the National Council of Jewish Women, is also recruiting lawyers and others to watch polls.

“We’re working to get people to polling locations that have a particular level of expertise and training to be able to advise people on their rights,” she said. “Lawyers are definitely highly preferred as people we want on the ground. But we have training that will be available to any person who wants to make sure that they’re available to be able to let people know what their rights are.”

Lawyers for the Anti-Defamation League have joined an effort led by Common Cause in Texas to overturn an order by Gov. Greg Abbott to limit ballot drops to one station per county. “Limiting the number of drop-off sites available to absentee voters reduces the options Texans have to participate in the 2020 election without risking their health,” Cheryl Drazin, the vice president of ADL’s central division, said in a statement.

Encouraging Election Day volunteering

The Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah is encouraging Jewish organizations to let staffers take Election Day off to volunteer as poll workers, and providing training for deescalation should they encounter attempts to disrupt voting. It launched its program, called Free and Fair: Our Duty to Democracy, on Tuesday.

Aaron Dorfman, the foundation’s president, said it was working with Over Zero, a group that combats “identity-based violence.” The training involves connecting volunteers from faith communities and establishing lines of communication if there is a threat, which is increasingly understood as a potential outcome during this election.

“If there are instances of violence on around Election Day they’re prepared to connect with local law enforcement of elected officials and other faith leaders,” he said. “They can think and strategize together and respond collectively.”

The ADL has published a guide for state and local officials to identify possible sources of extremist violence ahead of time. “It’s a toolkit or reference for state and local officials who are confronting the challenge of the potential for threats motivated by extremism,” said Steve Freeman, the ADL’s vice president for civil rights.

Sending wish-you-were-voting postcards

The Jewish federation in Buffalo, New York, is getting volunteers to write postcards to the voters in the states designated by the Reclaim our Vote project, which cites studies that have found that handwritten appeals on the back of colorful postcards spur 25% of recipients to reregister.

“Every county has specific texts that you’re allowed to use and they handwrite postcards, and they’re given an address to send,” said Mara Koven-Gelman, the federation’s community relations director.

Deborah Cohen, a retired psychiatric nurse who is a congregant at Buffalo’s Congregation Shir Shalom, initiated the postcard writing, drawing in 50 of her fellow congregants. Koven-Gelman said the effort has spread throughout the community and has reached “students and grandparents, people trying to make a difference.”

Addressing challenges facing the young and old

Hillel, the international organization that works with college students and young adults, has revamped its MitzVote campaign for the pandemic era, launching a website that helps students homebound by the pandemic figure out how and where to register to vote.

Two years ago, “West Wing” star and Jewish Twitter celebrity Josh Malina starred in a MitzVote get-out-the-vote video. This year, he’s joined by several other prominent (but youth-oriented) Jews in promoting MitzVote’s “Schmear Campaign,” which aims to convince college-aged voters that casting a ballot during the pandemic is as easy as toasting a bagel.

Announcing Hillel’s #MitzVote schmear campaign, spread the news (and that cream cheese of course!)

To join the #SchmearCampaign, and make sure your voter registration info is up-to-date, visit https://t.co/IVjsZgRksN. pic.twitter.com/zkuKMvbDMw

— Hillel (@HillelIntl) October 6, 2020

Hillel is not alone in targeting college students, who may face unique challenges in being able to vote because many are not living where they expected. Pesner said students in the Reform movement are amping up the student-to-student texting network they established after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida in 2018.

“We’ve got this massive text to text campaign of students holding their peers accountable,” he said.

At the same time, Jewish groups are giving special attention to elderly voters, as well, who may also face unique obstacles in casting their ballots.

“I’m especially concerned that Jews who are sitting at home, who plan on voting, don’t become intimidated because they think there’s going to be rowdy people at the polling sites, that it makes them stay home,” said Ronald Halber, who directs Greater Washington’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Getting out the party vote

Not all of this year’s election efforts are about safeguarding the vote. Partisan Jewish organizations are doing what they do every cycle: focusing on getting the vote out, especially in swing states where the margin between the winner and loser is likely to be narrow and Jewish voters could potentially influence the result.

As the contours of the election have become clearer, Democrats are laboring in more states than Republicans.

Matt Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition director, said his organization had reached over 410,000 “likely Trump and persuadable” voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, all swing states where Jewish voters could make a difference.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Democratic Council of America has made 100,000 calls and sent 120,000 texts to Jewish voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The hope, said spokeswoman Sarah Garfinkel, is to reach 500,000 voters by Election Day.

People hold placards after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addressed supporters at a Latinos for Trump campaign rally at Central Christian University in Orlando, Florida, Oct. 10, 2020. (Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Bend the Arc, the Jewish social justice movement that has endorsed Joe Biden and other Democrats, has exceeded its target of reaching 250,000 Jewish voters and is now extending its phone and text campaign to non-Jews in swing states, reaching 725,000 so far, said CEO Stosh Cotler. The targeted states include Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the hope is to reach 1.5 million voters by Election Day.

“We have moved into really targeting moderate voters in swing states who we believe Jews are very good messengers to reach,” Cotler said.

Another target for Bend the Arc are left-wing Jews disillusioned by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ loss in the primaries to Biden. “There are a set of Jewish voters who are way more progressive than the Biden-Harris ticket is, and we were concerned that those voters would potentially sit this race out,” she said.

Urging patience, despite possible delays

Efforts to ensure a smooth Election Day and weeks leading up to it may not be enough to safeguard this year’s vote. Jewish groups will join public information campaigns counseling patience in the face of Trump’s stated intention to see the vote as done on the evening of Nov. 3. (Prognosticators have suggested that the count might initially favor Trump and then swing to Biden once mail-in votes are counted.)

“We know that many of the votes won’t be counted on Nov. 3, and perhaps a decision will not be made and we need people to be patient, to let the process happen, we want people to be peaceful,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The post Registration, lawyers and patience: How Jewish groups are protecting voting access in 2020 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

When Christian is Jewish: Living a Jewish life with a non-Jewish name

Wed, 2020-10-14 16:53

(JTA) — Christian Goldenbaum is used to people doing a double take after he introduces himself. Almost every single day while living abroad in New York, London and Jerusalem, the 28-year-old São Paulo native was asked “How come a guy named Goldenbaum gets a name like Christian?”

Several times, religious Jews have expressed discomfort with his name — an Orthodox rabbi once insisted on calling him by his Hebrew name, Avraham, and his grandmother’s second husband would call him “the boy” growing up to avoid saying his first name. Another time, an elderly Israeli man demanded he change his name.

“He was very obviously very aggressive. He was basically saying, ‘You’re not one of us with this name,’” Goldenbaum recalled.

Many who meet Goldenbaum are reacting to the apparent conflict in his full name — while his last name is stereotypically Jewish, his first name contains the name of the Christian messiah. That combination is rare, but he’s not alone.

Christian Goldenbaum says he gets plenty of questions about his name when he is outside his native Brazil. (Ana Elisa Trude)

Fox News host Chris Wallace is perhaps the most famous example of a Jew with a traditionally Christian name. Wallace’s Jewish parents decided to name their son Christopher after he was born on Columbus Day, according to a New York Times profile of him, which in its first sentence describes him as “a child of two Jews who keeps a rosary by his bedside.” (The rosary is a gift from his Catholic wife whom Wallace accompanies to church on Christmas and Easter.)

Wallace, born in 1947, was named at a time when American Jewish naming practices were undergoing a shift. Though the earliest American Jews were likely to give their children biblical names, it wasn’t long before Jews started trying to fit into American naming conventions, according to historian Gary Zola, who said that in the 19th century it wasn’t rare to find Jews named after George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other prominent American leaders.

With time, Jews started increasingly gravitating towards more general American names.

“They might give their kid a name like James or Isidore, which is more Americanized instead of Israel. … Instead of Shalom or Shmuel, you become Seymour or Sy, and then you use your Hebrew name that you’re given in the synagogue,” said Zola, who is the executive director of the Jacob Rader Center of the American Jewish Archives and a professor of at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

This trend continued until the middle of the 20th century, when names seen as further from the tradition started entering the community. In some cases, non-religious Jews liked a certain name — like Christopher — and didn’t view it as necessarily having ties to another religion.

“That kind of thing is rare, but it does happen in the post-World War II period,” Zola said. “They like the name and therefore they’ll give it to their children.”

Jewish journalist Chris Wallace, seen here during the first 2020 presidential debate in Cleveland, was named after Christopher Columbus. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images)

Intermarriage or conversions also mean that a Jewish convention — honoring deceased relatives when naming children — can cause names that originated in other religions to be passed down.

Hannah Christianson, a 20-year-old student at Barnard College in New York, got her last name from her non-Jewish father, who has Norwegian roots. At times, she said, she feels she has to “overcompensate” for people to know that she is Jewish.

At the end of her first year of college, she met a friend who worked as a recruiter for Birthright Israel through a Hillel event. The friend didn’t try to get Christianson to sign up for an Israel trip, which Birthright makes free for Jews ages 18-26, because she assumed based on Christianson’s name that she was not Jewish.

At times, Christianson feels self-conscious talking about Judaism because she worries how her comments will be perceived by those who assume she is not Jewish. That is the case in a course she is taking this semester about Judaism.

“I would sometimes speak in it and it has the name pop up in the corner because it’s on Zoom, and I just remembered after talking feeling really weird because I realized that the people in the class don’t know I’m Jewish, so it kind of sounds like I’m making assumptions about the Jewish community that I’m not qualified to make,” she said.

In certain contexts, she has found that it offers some benefit to be able to pass as not Jewish.

“In very leftist and anti-Zionist spaces, I would feel a little bit uncomfortable talking about my Judaism, and so I don’t say anything,” Christianson said. “The assumptions that go along with being Jewish can make it a little uncomfortable to disclose that sometimes, and I feel like I do have a privilege in that I’m able to not disclose it in certain spaces.”

The story behind Goldenbaum’s name is a little different. His maternal grandparents are Jews from Germany who fled to Brazil before World War II and wanted their grandchild to have a German-sounding name as a nod to their heritage.

His paternal grandparents, on the other hand, came from Egypt and fled their home country in the 1950s, when tens of thousands of Jews were driven out. (His paternal grandfather’s family was originally from Europe, hence the name Goldenbaum.) That trauma left his father especially wanting his son to have a name that would allow him to pass as a non-Jew.

Thus, the family settled on Christian. Goldenbaum says the name has less overtly Christian connotations in his native Brazil — in Portuguese the word for a Christian person is “cristão.”

“Here when I say my name people don’t usually think about, ‘This guy is a Jewish person named Christian.’ They don’t even realize that,” he said.

In Canada, Justin Christopher Tobin’s name has “certainly raised some eyebrows,” he said. Though he doesn’t usually introduce himself with his middle name, the 23-year-old student at the Memorial University of Newfoundland faced challenges when he tried entering Israel as a participant and later staffer on Birthright trips a few years ago. At the airport he was questioned by El Al agents about how a Jew could be named Christopher.

“It almost hurt to hear that I wasn’t Jewish enough or somehow I was an impostor, even though I knew that I wasn’t and I knew I had every — literally — birthright to be there. It can be intimidating,” recalled Tobin, who is named after his Irish Catholic father.

Justin Christopher Tobin, seen here wearing a tallit during a Birthright trip, says El Al agents interrogated him about his middle name ahead of his visit to Israel. (Courtesy of Tobin)

He has also been met with confusion in synagogue while called to read from the Torah, and in giving his father’s name when being asked about his parents’ names. But the experiences haven’t mitigated Tobin’s pride in his name and his heritage — his family includes people with Jewish, Irish Catholic and indigenous Canadian roots.

“I’m pretty proud of my name,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I don’t like when it comes up and someone makes a deal of it, but at the same time it’s a chance to educate and it’s a chance to share with someone, ‘Hey, just because you’re from a fully Jewish background, I’m not, and that’s OK.'”

The post When Christian is Jewish: Living a Jewish life with a non-Jewish name appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Poland will end its kosher and halal meat export industry in 2025

Wed, 2020-10-14 16:29

(JTA) – Poland’s senate passed a law that will end its $1.8 billion kosher and halal meat export industry in 2025. Religious communities will still be able to slaughter meat without prior stunning, as is required by Jewish and Muslim law, as long as the meat is not for export.

A vote Wednesday approved the law that was introduced last month in the government’s lower house and was originally intended to go into effect in 2022.

Poland has about 20,000 Jews and a similar number of Muslims. The bulk of its many kosher and halal slaughterhouses produce meat for export. Critics say that killing animals without stunning them is cruel; proponents of the practice say it is relatively painless.

Polish farmer and meat producer unions successfully fought to have the law postponed in connection with the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, which has lobbied against the Polish legislation, has argued that Poland is a major provider of Kosher meat to the rest of Europe and beyond.

Margolin called the amendment delaying the bill “encouraging” but said his organization will continue to fight for the scrapping of the legislation.

The post Poland will end its kosher and halal meat export industry in 2025 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Germany allocates $662 million in emergency funding for Holocaust survivors around the world

Wed, 2020-10-14 14:58

(JTA) — Germany has pledged an extra $662 million toward helping Holocaust survivors during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money will be given out in two payments over the next two years to some 240,000 survivors around the world, especially in Israel, the United States and Western Europe, the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Two grants of about $1,400 each will go chiefly to Jews who are not already receiving financial support from Germany earmarked for victims of the Nazis.

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told the AP that about half of Holocaust survivors in the United States live in Brooklyn and were particularly hard-hit by the financial effects of the pandemic.

The new payments come in addition to the $4.3 million in emergency funding that the Claims Conference has given to agencies providing aid to Holocaust survivors.

The post Germany allocates $662 million in emergency funding for Holocaust survivors around the world appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Bernard Cohen, who brought Loving v. Virginia to the Supreme Court, dies at 86

Wed, 2020-10-14 13:45

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bernard Cohen, the lawyer whose volunteer gig with the ACLU led him to make history when he successfully argued that the Supreme Court should overturn laws banning interracial marriage, has died at 86.

Cohen died on Monday at an assisted living home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, The Washington Post reported. He had Parkinson’s disease.

Cohen was 29 in 1964 when Mildred and Richard Loving contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. Mildred Loving, who was Black and indigenous American, and Richard Loving, who was white, were criminally charged in Virginia for marrying. The couple avoided jail time by agreeing not to enter Virginia for 25 years. They moved to Washington, D.C., but they were homesick. Mildred Loving returned to Virginia, while Richard Loving remained in Washington.

The ACLU assigned Cohen, who had a private law practice in Alexandria, Virginia, and Philip Hirschkop to the case. Both lawyers were Jewish.

They worked the case through the Virginia state courts with the aim of getting to the Supreme Court.

“I knew it was going to the Supreme Court,” Cohen told The Associated Press in 1992. “And I definitely thought there was something serendipitous about the fact that the case would be called Loving vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

His strongest argument, Cohen told the court, was what Richard Loving had asked him to convey: “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

Cohen, who went on to serve in the Virginia state legislature as a liberal Democrat, was born in Brooklyn in 1934 to immigrant parents. He is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren.

The post Bernard Cohen, who brought Loving v. Virginia to the Supreme Court, dies at 86 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I thought anti-Semitism was a problem of the past. Then I became Jewish.

Wed, 2020-10-14 13:43

(JTA) — It wasn’t until I started converting to Judaism that I realized that anti-Semitism is very much alive and well — and it’s only getting worse.

Last year saw the most anti-Semitic incidents in 40 years, according to the Anti-Defamation League. While the numbers aren’t yet in for 2020, there have been anti-Semitic events every month of the year so far. 

And yet, when I talk to my family about anti-Semitism and why I don’t feel safe here in America anymore, they don’t quite understand. 

I don’t expect them to, either. If you have never been discriminated against for your identity, then you simply can’t comprehend how it could happen to others, either. You don’t know how scary and powerless you feel when people say they hate you. 

Growing up in a white home in a predominantly white neighborhood in Baltimore, I never once faced racism or any form of discrimination. My family and I pretty much looked like everyone else. We could blend in and there were no differences between the people in our community and us. 

On the other hand, in high school, when my mom moved us to Pikesville, a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, I noticed that they looked different from us right away. Mostly, I’d see them on Saturdays, wearing all black and pushing baby strollers. The only thoughts that crossed my mind were, “Wow, Jewish people walk a lot,” and “They must be really hot in that dark clothing.” 

Unlike my mom and I, they couldn’t hide who they were. 

Today, I’m one of those Jews walking on Shabbat around my neighborhood, which is a little frightening nowadays. But the few times when I have experienced real anti-Semitism, ironically, have occurred when I wasn’t easily identifiable as an Orthodox Jew. Like the time my landlord told me her father used to “Jew people down,” or when my Uber driver said Jews control the world and like to make little children into matzoh ball soup (really!). The topic came up because we were driving through a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles and he spotted some haredi Jews.  

The first incident was offensive, and the latter was horrifying. I shared these stories online and with my family, because the only way non-Jews can slightly understand what is going on is if we tell our stories and show them our lived reality. 

It took me a while to get to this place, though. I didn’t want to comment on anti-Semitism because I didn’t want to seem like I was being dramatic. One thing that anti-Semites say online is that anti-Semitism doesn’t actually exist, and Jews make it up or are exaggerating it. 

I gave into that for a little bit, sadly because I didn’t want to face harassment online. But we must speak up.

This summer, I witnessed #JewishPrivilege shift from an anti-Semitic hashtag on Twitter to one where Jews were sharing their anti-Semitic trauma. I shared the landlord and Uber stories, and also posted, “#JewishPrivilege is when a Hollywood agent yelled at my husband, a comedian, for taking off Jewish holidays because ‘You can’t do that in this business!’” and “#JewishPrivilege is having to hire an armed guard for our synagogue because Jews were massacred in Pittsburgh and Poway.”

I received more engagement than I’ve ever achieved on the platform. One person told me “F— Israel” and another called me a “heathen” for converting. But overall, I found massive support from non-Jews and Jews alike, with many retweeting me and agreeing with what I had said. It empowered me to keep tweeting about anti-Semitism. 

We must continue to speak up, show our vulnerability and humanity and help the non-Jewish community understand. Black Lives Matter is very effective at showing people outside of the Black community their pain and trauma and has gained a huge following, with people of all different races and backgrounds supporting them. 

There’s no reason that anti-Semitism and its effects shouldn’t be understood and rejected just as firmly as racism. 

Unfortunately, a lot of non-Jews think that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past that died with the Holocaust and society has advanced since then. I certainly did before I converted. But when talking about anti-Semitism in the classroom, it has to go way beyond the Holocaust so people can very much realize it’s alive and well today. 

Recently, a teenager asked my husband to take off his hat so he could see if he had horns. Maybe if that teen had gotten a better education on anti-Semitism, he would have thought twice before saying that.

When I talk to my family about how America is quickly becoming like Europe before the Holocaust and how I want to move to Israel one day, they say “Really?” and find it hard to believe. 

“Why would you move so far away?” they ask. I tell them I want to survive. I send them news articles to back up my claims. I hope they’re beginning to understand. I hope they see that Pittsburgh and Poway were not isolated incidents but indicative of a bigger issue going on. 

It may seem dramatic, but I’m OK with being dramatic now. I’m not going to apologize for bringing up the trauma I’ve experienced. That’s not my job. I’m done with feeling powerless. 

If our collective chorus gets louder and louder, and we tell our non-Jewish friends and family about anti-Semitism, they may just start to understand — and become valuable allies in the process.

The post I thought anti-Semitism was a problem of the past. Then I became Jewish. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

British politician gets death threats over his support for London Holocaust memorial

Wed, 2020-10-14 13:34

(JTA) — A British state secretary and his family received death threats over his support for erecting a Holocaust memorial in London.

Robert Jenrick, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, has been given protection by counter-terrorism police after threats to burn down his home and kill his family, the Jewish Chronicle reported last week. Jenrick’s wife Michael was born in Israel and his children are Jewish.

The threats were reportedly motivated by Jenrick’s support for a plan to erect a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust near the British Parliament in London.

Opponents of the plan have made multiple arguments against it, ranging from landscaping objections to fears it would be targeted by terrorists and even that it would eclipse a nearby monument marking the abolition of slavery. A legal challenge also claimed that there was a conflict of interest in the government’s handling of the memorial application, but the High Court cleared Jenrick of those charges.

“The behavior of some of the opponents to the memorial has been shocking and disgraceful,” Jenrick told the Chronicle. “The fact that I have been subjected to these smears, and my family to antisemitic abuse and death threats only shows the paramount importance of the memorial.”

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher is to deliver a final decision on the plan sometime this year.

The post British politician gets death threats over his support for London Holocaust memorial appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, resigns amid sexting affair that took an anti-Semitic turn

Wed, 2020-10-14 13:25

(JTA) — The Jewish mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, has stepped down after admitting to a messaging affair with a local news anchor who then baselessly accused him of pedophilia and left an obscene voice message containing anti-Semitic epithets.

Ethan Berkowitz had led Alaska’s largest city since 2015.

The affair broke into public view Friday after the news anchor, a woman named Maria Athens who worked for a group of local TV stations, posted an amateur video to Facebook in which she accused Berkowitz of pedophilia.

“According to reliable sources, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has his male genitalia posted on an underage girl’s website,” she says in the video, which appeared to have been taken at a local news station. “You heard it here first.”

Also on Friday, Athens posted two photos to Facebook that she claimed were of Berkowitz’s naked backside. In a voicemail laced with anti-Semitic language that she left for Berkowitz on Friday, Athens threatened to kill him and his wife.

“I’m gonna get an Emmy,” she said, in a recording obtained by the Anchorage Press. “I will personally kill you and Mara Kimmel my goddamn self, you Jewish piece of living f—ing shit. You have met your match, motherf—er. You have met your motherf—ing match. I can’t believe — I am such a good person, and thought I loved you. I f—ing hate — I don’t even hate you. I will pray for your Zionist f—ing ass, you piece of s–t loser.”

Athens promised to air a segment on her allegations that night, but it never aired. Instead, she apparently got into a physical altercation with her boss and then was arrested for assault, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The mayor’s office denied her allegations in a statement that called her “hostile and unwell.” Police and the FBI said there was no evidence that Berkowitz engaged in any criminal activity.

But on Monday, Berkowitz admitted that he and Athens had engaged in a sexual messaging affair, and then stepped down.

“I apologize to the people of Anchorage for a major lapse in judgment I made several years ago when I had a consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship with reporter Maria Athens,” Berkowitz said in a statement. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed for the hurt I’ve caused my family and our community. I take responsibility for my actions.”

Berkowitz was the third Jewish mayor of Anchorage, a city of about 2,000 Jews, and his biography includes winning a bronze medal in sailing at the 1985 Maccabiah Games in Israel, according to a 2017 profile in the J, Jewish News of Northern California. Alaska could also get a Jewish senator this year if Al Gross, an independent candidate, pulls off an upset in November’s election.

The post Jewish mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, resigns amid sexting affair that took an anti-Semitic turn appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Germany would share Europe-only COVID vaccine with Israel, citing ‘special relationship’

Wed, 2020-10-14 00:16

(JTA) — Germany has pledged to include Israel in Europe’s deal for a future vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, in keeping with Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel as a response to the Holocaust.

According to Israeli media, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Health Minister Jens Spahn made the commitment to Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff in conversations on Oct. 11.

A Ynet report claims Germany used its influence on the E.U. to bend the rule that a European-produced vaccination would be given first to European countries. Germany justified the decision in part through its historical commitment to support Israel.

Embassy spokesperson Shir Gidon told Globes, the Israel business news service, that “Germany sees Israel as part of Europe in terms of procuring the vaccine and therefore it will be permitted to convey the vaccine for use in Israel when it is approved.”

The decision, which followed an earlier meeting between Ashkenazi and Maas in Berlin, would allow Israel — an associate member of the European Union — to purchase some of the 400 million vaccines that the U.K.-Swedish company AstraZeneca is contracted to produce for the E.U., if the vaccine, currently in currently in phase III human trials, is found to be safe and effective.

Ashkenazi told Ynet that an eventual vaccine would “allow the economy to return to full activity in Israel,” and thanked Issacharoff and the embassy staff for their role in reaching the agreement.

In 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as the first in her position invited to speak to the Knesset, described Germany’s “special historical responsibility for Israel’s security” as part of Germany’s “raison d’e?tre.”

The post Germany would share Europe-only COVID vaccine with Israel, citing ‘special relationship’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mitch McConnell called Chuck Schumer ‘somebody from New York.’ Was it an anti-Semitic dog whistle?

Tue, 2020-10-13 21:49

(JTA) — In a debate with his election opponent on Monday night, Mitch McConnell asked voters: “Do you want somebody from New York setting the agenda?”

On the surface, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was referring to Sen. Chuck Schumer, the longtime Jewish politician from New York who would take McConnell’s title and position if Democrats regain control of the Senate. McConnell is heavily favored to win in his race with Democrat Amy McGrath.

But when Politico reporter Jake Sherman tweeted the “New York” quote, many of McConnell’s critics pointed out that President Donald Trump is also from New York, and McConnell has no problem with Trump setting the agenda for the country.

So some of those critics suggested that when he said “New York,” McConnell wasn’t really talking about the state or the city. He was talking about the Jews.

“‘Wait, Trump is from New Yo– oh, I see what he means by ‘New York,'” tweeted Jonathan Chait, a liberal writer for New York magazine. Matt Boxer, a Jewish studies professor at Brandeis, tweeted, “there’s a long history of ‘New York’ being used in this context to mean ‘Jews.'”

Did McConnell blow an anti-Semitic dog whistle? Or did he just find a way to describe his rival’s liberal political views in a way that happened to raise eyebrows?

It’s true that the term “New York” has often been strongly associated with Jews. New York has long been America’s most Jewish city and home to many of the most prominent American Jews — as well as large visibly Jewish communities. Foods typically associated with New York, like bagels and deli, are Jewish foods. Jewish writers, directors and actors — from Nora Ephron to Jerry Seinfeld to (the now canceled) Woody Allen — have defined New York on screen and in the popular imagination. For 28 of the past 47 years, New York’s mayor has been a Jew.

Notably, the outrage over this particular incident hasn’t yet left Twitter, which is an outrage machine. And, regardless of religion, New York is culturally very different from Kentucky, where McConnell is running. New York City is one of the most liberal areas in the country, and it could reasonably be held up as a symbol of liberal American politics and culture.

But previous politicians have gotten in trouble for making the New York-Jewish connection, whether explicitly or implicitly.

In 2016, Ted Cruz criticized Trump on the presidential debate stage of having “New York values.”

“There are many, many wonderful working men and women in the state of New York. But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media,” Cruz said.

At the time, some said Cruz’s rhetoric was an anti-Semitic dog whistle. Cruz didn’t help his case when he said that Trump has chutzpah, which he called a “New York term.” Chutzpah is, in fact, a Yiddish (and therefore Jewish) term.

The most famous political association between Jews and New York came in 1984, when Jesse Jackson, who was then running for president, called the city “Hymietown,” an anti-Semitic slur. He apologized, but the backlash helped tank his candidacy.

The term has shown up in fictional politics, too. On the pilot episode of “The West Wing,” a Christian lobbyist snipes at a Jewish official’s “New York sense of humor.” As the room fills with tension, another Jewish colleague shoots back, “She meant Jewish.”

Despite the endless list of reasons why Democrats loathe McConnell, he has never been accused of anti-Semitism over a long career.

While there has been no shortage of coded anti-Semitism in politics this year, from offensive caricatures to QAnon conspiracy theorists to politicians who cozy up to white supremacists, McConnell has never been part of that group. As of Tuesday afternoon, Howtofightantisemitism.com, a progressive website that comprehensively lists recent allegations of right-wing anti-Semitism, returns zero results for Mitch McConnell.

The one possible exception here involves a 2008 ad attacking… Chuck Schumer. The ad, video of which is no longer available, attacks Schumer with a voiceover using a stereotypically New York accent, and does not mention McConnell’s then-opponent at all. At the time, Schumer was not the Democratic Party’s leader in the Senate. Observers noted that it might have played off Jewish stereotypes, though others thought the accent was less Mel Brooks than Tony Soprano.

Soprano, for the record, is from New Jersey.

The post Mitch McConnell called Chuck Schumer ‘somebody from New York.’ Was it an anti-Semitic dog whistle? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.