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Jewish in the big leagues: Power hitter Shawn Green dishes at White House event

Thu, 2022-05-19 22:41

For Jewish baseball fans in the early 2000s, no player compared to Shawn Green, the lefty slugger who gave away his white batting gloves after every homer.

At a White House event Thursday celebrating Jews and the national pastime, the former Dodger, Blue Jay and Met shared some delightful Jewish moments from his 15-year MLB career, and a few in which he faced antisemitism. 

“We kind of had this similar experience that no other players shared,” Green said of the unique camaraderie among Jewish big leaguers.

The White House held the Zoom event as part of an ongoing commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month. 

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In an interview with Chanan Weissman, the White House liaison to the American Jewish community, Green said that when he first broke into The Show with the Blue Jays, no one knew he was Jewish — mainly because he didn’t have a particularly Jewish name.

But word spread quickly after the team doctor brought Green with him to High Holiday services.

Soon, Green said, Jewish community news reporters started waiting for him on the road — not quite the gaggle the Japanese and Korean players got, but special nevertheless.

“I embraced it,” Green said. “I was proud to go to these different cities and have kids coming up to me, and always have a small little fan base in every city of Jewish kids.” 

Shawn Green speaks during the White House’s ‘Jews and Baseball’ event. Image by screenshot

While never a regular shul-goer, Green said he always identified culturally with Judaism. So each year, he would check to see if Yom Kippur fell on the schedule.

It finally happened in his ninth season, with the Dodgers two games back in a pennant race in late September 2001: Green had games that fell on Erev Yom Kippur and again the day of. He faced a predicament.

“If I missed both games, I’d say, ‘Well, I’m not super observant. So that doesn’t seem right,’” Green said. “And if I didn’t sit out either game, as someone who embraced being Jewish, and being a Jewish role model, I didn’t feel like that was right.”

After consulting with Sandy Koufax, the Dodger southpaw whose decision to sit out Game 1 of the 1959 World Series remains a American Jewish touchstone, Green decided to play one, sit one. 

But the most Jewish moment of his career, he said, actually occurred on Rosh Hashanah.

The catcher for the Brewers that day was Jesse Levis — whom he knew was Jewish from their time together in the minor leagues. When Green stepped up to the dish, he greeted Levis with a friendly “Shana Tova.”

The Jewish New Year salutation was reciprocated, unexpectedly, by umpire Al Clark — who was also Jewish. The three struck up a conversation — or as Weissman put it, “kibbitzed.”

“We definitely knew who each other were, and there was always an extra little bond” among the league’s Hebrew hammers, Green said. “And during batting practice or whatever, we would kibbitz for a little bit.”

The Green fandom reached a new pitch when the right fielder became a Dodger in 2000 — and grew into one of the league’s most feared power hitters. 

In 2002 — 20 years from Monday, in fact — Green had what is likely the greatest single-game hitting performance in MLB history, smashing four home runs, a double and a single. The 19 total bases he recorded in Milwaukee that day have never been topped.

When he was in the minor leagues, Green said, he occasionally heard teammates who did not know he was Jewish expressing antisemitic sentiments. But even a pair of all-star appearances did not prevent him from facing antisemitism in the big leagues — including one time when a fan of the rival San Francisco Giants did a Nazi salute from the bleachers.

“Especially when you’re standing in the outfield, you can hear quite a bit of it,” he said. “You kind of just feel sad — not as much angry as just sad — that people have that type of hatred, anger, frustration, and they have no outlet for it.”

Other speakers on the call included MLB’s official historian, John Thorn — whose parents survived the Holocaust — and the first woman to coach in the league, Justine Siegal.

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Conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds are still going strong on Twitter

Thu, 2022-05-19 18:36

Once again, the Rothschilds are trending. This time, it’s not because Marjorie Taylor Greene said they had space lasers, but because an economist named David Rothschild — who has nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter — responded to an Elon Musk tweet complaining about the Democratic party, calling out Musk’s privilege as the white son of a South African emerald miner. 

Instantly, commenters jumped on Rothschild’s last name, pointing out the irony of a Rothschild criticizing someone else’s privilege given the family’s banking business and wealth. “A Rothschild complaining about other people’s privileges. The joke tells itself,” read one reply. “Bro you’re one of the most privelaged [sic] people to have ever lived, this is silly. At least Elon is making the world a better place,” said another, boasting thousands of likes.

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Except David Michael Rothschild the economist says he has no relationship to the banking family. There is a David Rothschild — David Mayer de Rothschild — who is part of the banking family; he is an explorer, not an economist. Of course, even if a member of the banking family were criticizing Musk, it wouldn’t invalidate the criticism and, given that Musk is one of the wealthiest people in the world, any Rothschild’s fortune would be dwarfed by his.

But those sorts of facts are irrelevant to the conspiracy theories that swirl around the Rothschild name — those who disseminate these theories aren’t really concerned with the Rothschild banking family, who, while wealthy, are far less wealthy than numerous other institutions and individuals. Instead, talking about the Rothschilds’ serves as a shorthand for a larger network of antisemitic tropes about Jews controlling wealth and power. And since David Rothschild’s viral clapback at Musk, those conspiracies are swirling anew, boosted to a wider audience thanks to the visibility of anything Musk tweets.

Though numerous people in the replies to Rothschild The Economist’s tweet tried to point out that multiple people can have the same last name and not be related, the conspiracy theorists shrugged this off, simply reasserting that any Rothschild is part of the banking family and is fundamentally evil. Anyone trying to defend this Rothschild was mocked in the comments.

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The viral moment has elevated numerous memes and conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds and, by extension, the canard of a Jewish cabal trying to control the world, including versions of the Great Replacement theory recently thrust into the spotlight by the Buffalo shooter. A picture of a patent is circulating, and supposedly proves that the Rothschild family caused the coronavirus pandemic in order to profit off of medical inventions; the document is actually a standard patent application for a COVID-19 test. (This conspiracy is an extension of an existing accusation that the Rothschilds caused the Spanish Flu.)

Others tweets replying to Musk and Rothschild repeat better known conspiracies, such as the one that holds that the Jewish Rothschild family financed the Nazis and that they control nearly every major banking institution. The conspiracies are attached to memes with dramatic red lettering and sinister-looking pictures of Rothschild family members.

In a way, the Rothschild conspiracy theory feels old-fashioned — today, the Rothschild family is not a cultural behemoth outside of conspiracy circles and the financial institution is much smaller than larger institutions such as Deutsche Bank

But in moments like these, it’s clear that the Rothschild conspiracy has persisted — in fact, thanks to a greater distance from the historical origin of the theory, it has flourished. Freed entirely from the facts and released to a rabid, fast-moving online culture with no time for research and the ability to disseminate ideas widely, it’s been able to develop even further. 

When major public figures such as Elon Musk, one of the most-followed Twitter users out there, get embroiled in a debate like this, conspiracy theorists are able to ride the coattails of the issue into greater publicity. And as people pile on to the viral moment, the conspiracy theories morph and distort even more.

The modern political milieu online has enabled people to further justify their antisemitic beliefs, attempting to turn progressive ideas about privilege back on their users. After Rothschild The Economist tweeted about the antisemitic attacks he was receiving after he criticized Musk, replies tried to invalidate his statement by saying that criticizing or hating Jews as a group is no more racist than criticizing privileged wealthy people. Combining this with the Rothschild’s wealth creates a group that, conspiracy theorists argue, is not only legitimate but mandatory to criticize — by the progressive Left’s own logic. 

This is, of course, silly; criticizing how people wield their wealth and power is not the same as criticizing an entire ethnic group — the latter is racist. But once you’ve bought into the rhetoric of online conspiracies, it’s nearly impossible to see the difference. And that makes the Rothschilds the perfect target — even when the guy being targeted isn’t even one of them.

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Why there is no holiday more tragic than Lag B’Omer for my family

Thu, 2022-05-19 17:49

Lag B’Omer is traditionally a happy festival when Jews celebrate with bonfires and picnics, but I have always known it as the day when most of my mother’s family was murdered.

My mother, Lunia Athalie Backenroth Gartner Weiss, came from the Gartner family, which was well-known for philanthropy. The Gartners built the theater in Stryj, Poland —now Ukraine —and a hospital wing dedicated to the care of women and children. They were also prodigious Torah scholars—particularly Shamei and Naftali. (The mother’s maternal family, the Backenroths, is the subject of Israeli journalist Michael Karpin’s “Tightrope: Six Centuries of a Jewish Dynasty” and are featured in Yaffa Eliach’s “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.”)

In 1943, on Erev Lag B’Omer, the family of Shamei Gartner (including his wife, his daughters, sons, all their spouses and all their children—among them, my grandfather Naftali, after whom my 5 year old grandchild in Israel is named, and my grandmother, Chana, after whom I am named) were all murdered.

The Nazis routinely “celebrated” Jewish holidays with extra aktions against the Jews, and this holiday was no exception.

As my mom often explained, the most important thing during these aktions “where the Nazis tried to catch every Jew” was “not to let the Nazis get their hands on you.” Therefore, it was imperative to hide. My mom’s Gartner family hired an architect to design a secret bunker, so secret that only members of the family were allowed to build it and know its location. It was so well stocked that, despite the starvation rampant in the ghetto, the whole family could have survived there for many weeks.

The hiding place was a room behind a hearth with a false wall; in the hearth was a big cauldron of water with a few potato shavings floating on the top — as if they were making soup. Before each aktion, the men in the Gartner Family drew lots; the one who got the short straw closed up the false wall and climbed above in the rafters. This person was totally exposed, if any of the Nazis happened to look up, but that was the system — one was vulnerable in order to save the others.

 

Lunia/Athalie Backenroth Gartner Weiss was the only survivor of her nuclear family, and of much of her extended family as well. She is pictured here at age 10 with her little brother Zvi. Courtesy of Ann Weiss

During one aktion, maybe a week or so before, many people were running to escape the clutches of the Nazis. Shamei Gartner was among them. Mom described him as having a long, flowing white beard, soft, kind eyes and a ready smile. “To me, he looked a modern-day Moses,” she said.

While everyone including Shamei and his daughters was running away from the Nazis, Shamei noticed a young man near them who was running too. “We must take him in too,” he told his daughter (my mother’s aunt) who was frantic, knowing how crucial it was that the location of the bunker be kept secret.

“The Nazis have taken everything away from us, but I won’t let them take away my ‘menshlichkeit’ (‘humanity’),” Shamei said simply. “If he doesn’t come in, I won’t come in.” With anguish, his daughter relented, and everyone was saved.

During the next aktion, most of the Gartner family ran and managed to hide in the bunker. My mother and her little brother, Zvi, were too far away and they didn’t make it there, so they found somewhere else to hide — which was why neither was in the bunker when an uncle witnessed this devastating scene: He saw the same young man, the one Shamei Gartner had saved, leading the Nazis to the bunker.

“Want to see a bunch of rich Jews?” the young man asked — which is how all of the Gartner family—mothers, fathers, children and grandparents — were all led away and murdered in a pit.

It has been 79 years since that awful day. I often think of Shamei Gartner, the man whose kindness and ethics saved that young man from the Nazis — and I feel so proud to be related to him. But then I also think of Shamei Gartner, a man whose ethics and humanity were much too good for that brutal world, and I wonder if, had he been less righteous, if I actually would have been lucky enough to know any of these relatives. Thanks to my mom and her many stories — always told with love — my sister, my two daughters and I almost feel as if we do.

Today, and many days, may their memories be for a blessing. Today and many other days, I know that they truly are.

Ann Weiss, Ph.D. is the author of “The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” the curator of a traveling photographic exhibition, a filmmaker, educator, and interviewer for the Transcending Trauma Project. She is also the Founding Director of Eyes from the Ashes, an educational nonprofit.  For further information, please see: www.thelastalbum.org

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‘Plunder,’ Menachem Kaiser’s memoir about reclaiming his family’s Polish home, wins Sami Rohr prize

Thu, 2022-05-19 16:37

(JTA) – The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, an annual award that comes with $100,000, this year went to Menachem Kaiser for his nonfiction book “Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure.”

In his debut book, Kaiser recounts his efforts to use the Polish legal system to reclaim ownership of a building that belonged to his grandfather prior to the Holocaust. The book also details a community of Nazi treasure hunters in Eastern Europe, whom Kaiser joins up with as part of an effort to learn more about his own family history.

In an interview with the New York Jewish Week, Kaiser said that writing the book didn’t bring him any closer to his grandfather. But he found that the story of the treasure hunters resonated with his own search for a valuable lost past.

The Rohr prize, named after the Jewish philanthropist and distributed in partnership with the National Library of Israel, is handed out in alternating years to fiction and nonfiction authors. Among this year’s finalists were Ethiopian Jewish journalist Danny Adeno Abebe and his translator Eylon Levy for “From Africa to Zion,” a memoir of Abebe’s family’s migration to Israel. Ayala Fader was another finalist, for “Hidden Heretics,” a study of haredi Orthodox Jews who lead secret double lives online.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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Mayor Adams to meet with 55 women rabbis who are concerned he’s only hearing from Orthodox Jews

Thu, 2022-05-19 16:34

(New York Jewish Week) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams is meeting with 55 Jewish women clergy on Thursday who are concerned he is only getting advice on Jewish affairs from the mostly conservative-leaning Orthodox communities of New York City.

“We are a diverse and pluralistic community, and we want to introduce him to some of our people’s key leaders,” Rachel Timoner, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, told the New York Jewish Week.

Timoner is the author of an email obtained by the New York Jewish Week, which was sent to dozens of people who will be attending the meeting. It outlines the goals and talking points of the upcoming discussion. Timoner confirmed to the New York Jewish Week in a separate email that the “meeting is happening.”  

In the group email, Timoner said that this will be “the largest, and perhaps the first meeting of Jewish women and female-identified clergy with a New York City mayor ever.” 

The attendees of the meeting represent movements from all boroughs, including three seminaries, and more than 20 synagogues, schools and communal organizations.  

Timoner added the goal of Thursday’s meeting is for the mayor to see “that the vast majority of New York’s Jews are liberal and progressive.” 

“In particular, the concern was that his administration was only consulting haredi leaders, as if they spoke for the whole community,” Timoner said.  

Adams had broad support from the haredi Orthodox community during his campaign for mayor due to his tough-on-crime policies and the relationships he had built over the years as Brooklyn borough president. He counts Joel Eisdorfer, a Hasidic Jew and political activist, as a senior advisor — one of three Orthodox Jews appointed to the Adams administration’s senior staff.

The majority of American Jews have consistently identified with the Democratic Party in recent years, while the Orthodox minority has leaned Republican. In the New York area, the large haredi Orthodox community often courts ties with and supports sympathetic Democrats.  

Timoner said the meeting is a result of advocacy by the New York Jewish Agenda, a progressive Jewish group founded in 2020.

“New York Jewish Agenda exists, among other reasons, to achieve recognition by elected officials of the pluralistic, diverse Jewish community of New York, making the case that the majority of Jews in New York are liberal or progressive and often have a different set of priorities than do our haredi brothers or right-leaning siblings,” Timoner said.  

Timoner said that they will discuss a handful of issues at the meeting, including combatting antisemitism and hate violence, climate change, affordable housing, closing Rikers Island and health care, including mental health and abortion access.

Timoner added at the end of the email, “Thank you all so much again for agreeing to participate in this meeting.  I know it will make quite a statement to the mayor and expand his understanding of the Jewish people of New York.” 

Adams did not respond to request for comment.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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Alison Leiby wants you to laugh at her abortion. Will it actually help?

Thu, 2022-05-19 16:11

One thing nearly all birth control ads have in common are the pristine landscapes in which they take place. There’s the girly swimming pools of Nuvaring, the stylish, vagina-themed boudoir of Phexxi, the jewel-toned backdrops of Annovera. These elaborately constructed settings could not be less reflective of the actual experience of using birth control, which involves such pursuits as monitoring your legs for fatal blood clots and applying salves to the cystic acne you thought you’d left behind in middle school.

Jewish comedian Alison Leiby gets this. Midway through her 70-minute standup show, “Oh God, A Show About Abortion,” she takes a minute to talk about how birth control, often presented as an unequivocal boon to women, can actually kind of suck. She quips that Mirena and Kyleena, two hormonal IUDs on the market, sound more like the names of high school bullies than reliable barriers to pregnancy. Then there’s ParaGuard, the non-hormonal IUD, which can worsen periods — a non-starter for Lieby, whose uterus already “acts like it shops at Forever 21. Every three weeks, it’s like, ‘This is trash.’”

As its title suggests, Leiby’s show, currently running at the Cherry Lane Theater, details her unplanned pregnancy and her choice to have an abortion. Yet as much as Leiby orients her set around this one big taboo, she addresses the many smaller taboos that persist about women’s bodies and their sex lives. “Oh God” invites us to laugh at — and thus dispel, if only for a moment — the contrast between the polished, virtuous femininity our society demands from women and the sometimes funny, sometimes scary, always messy reality of living in a body that can make a baby.

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Known for her work as a writer on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Broad City,” Leiby takes the stage each night in the same outfit: a black t-shirt, black jeans and blue Gucci loafers that she repeatedly cites as proof of her financial unpreparedness for motherhood. She looks like a cool friend who knows where to get an espresso martini. On the night I went to see “Oh God,” she faced a mostly-female audience shaken by the recent leak of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and looking for something — anything! — to laugh at.

On the laughs front, Leiby always comes through, mining her life for one-liners and elaborate bits. She was on tour in Missouri in 2019 when her cycle-tracking app warned her that her period was late. After peeing into a cup (actually, a crystal scotch glass, the only available vessel in her hotel room) and confirming she was pregnant, Leiby knew exactly what she needed to do. She dialed up Planned Parenthood and, despite a lifetime of support for reproductive rights, found herself whispering, as if in shame, that she needed an abortion.

Leiby experienced what may soon become an impossibility for many: an easy abortion. She doesn’t have any agonizing memories or bureaucratic hurdles to pad out her set. Instead, she digresses frequently into different moments of her reproductive life. She riffs on gender-segregated anatomy lessons that crystalized sex as a subject of shame, and vague parental injunctions: “You can get stuff from oral, too,” Leiby recalls her mother saying during a pre-college shopping trip. As a 30-something, Leiby describes watching her friends perform contented, effortless motherhood while defending her own choice not to have children. (Her depiction of herself as a tax-return-bungling, houseplant-murdering incompetent unfit for motherhood — as if you can’t be a good plant mom without wanting real kids — is the only part of the show that feels stale.)

Leiby is skilled at turning the joke on those who would remain ignorant of women’s bodies: In one of her funniest anecdotes, she describes undergoing a lower back X-ray and listening to a trio of male neurosurgeons agonizing about a foreign object near her pelvis. It takes a female nurse to identify the object as a tampon. Perhaps because of this, the ease with which she describes her actual abortion — at the Planned Parenthood in Soho — is unsurprising. Asked during a pre-procedure sonogram if she wanted to know whether the fetus had a heartbeat, Leiby says, “You can fax that to Mitch McConnell. I don’t really care. He seems to care a lot.”

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Jokes aside, Leiby makes a pointed argument: To normalize abortion, we need to talk about it more often and more frankly. Her unapologetic attitude does sometimes feel profoundly transgressive. It was freeing to hear someone say aloud that she didn’t like what birth control did to her body, that she didn’t take it, and that she didn’t feel guilty about needing an abortion as a result. (Not to mention, I learned more about the logistics of an in-clinic abortion in those 70 minutes than in years of state-mandated sex education.)

Yet this argument was far more viable when Roe was a settled precedent than it is now. Millennials like Leiby, and like me, grew up at a time when the work of reproductive freedom seemed to lie with reducing social stigma around abortion or easing the financial or logistical obstacles to obtaining this care. Now, we may soon face formidable legal barriers in a majority of states. Leiby, who reportedly learned of the Roe leak while eating dinner after a run of her show, gestures to the increased importance of frank talk about abortion in an era when our rights are being “legislated away.” But the effort of normalization only goes so far if abortions are impossible to legally obtain.

Only at the very end of the show does Leiby make clear what we might gain by talking about abortion in this particular, bleak moment. Just as she whispered the word “abortion” to the Planned Parenthood receptionist, she finds herself reluctant to tell her mother about the procedure. When she does, her mother reveals her own pre-Roe abortion, obtained through one of her mother’s Mafia-affiliated business associates. (“We do all the Rockettes,” they assured her.) Leiby’s mother, then a teenager, was blindfolded in an empty parking lot and driven to a strange house, where she endured a medically-induced miscarriage without any family or friends to support her.

Leiby’s mother never discussed the procedure with her parents again. And she didn’t tell her daughter until Leiby confided in her. To hear these stories — the ones that truly matter right now, the ones of a world without Roe — we may each have to start a conversation. Just as Leiby does every night, onstage.

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Amar’e Stoudemire clarifies why he’s leaving his Brooklyn Nets job: Shabbat observance issues

Thu, 2022-05-19 00:23

(JTA) — Former basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire raised some eyebrows when he disclosed last week that he is leaving the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets after two seasons as a player development assistant coach. His comments about how the situation surrounding notoriously unvaccinated star player Kyrie Irving hurt the team’s chemistry made headlines, and some speculated that Stoudemire’s relationship with the Nets might have soured over time.

But on Wednesday, Stoudemire aimed to set the record straight in a video on his Instagram page: the real reason he is leaving the job is because it has interfered with his Shabbat observance.

Stoudemire, a former NBA All-Star who has steadily grown more religious over the past decade and formally converted to Judaism while living in Israel in 2020, said that he told Nets coach Steve Nash that he has not been able to “grow in the coaching space because I don’t work on Shabbat.”

“Coaching is such a grind, and it requires you to be there full time,” he added. “The Nets organization want people who can be there full time, and I totally understand that. Therefore it was a mutual understanding.”

Stoudemire also talked about Kyrie Irving’s religiosity and activism; the Nets guard has become an observant Muslim in recent years and has spoken out about racism in the United States.

“Criticizing Kyrie — why would I criticize someone who’s [the same] as I am? I also fast during the NBA season, for Yom Kippur,” he said. “I’m also a guy who’s an activist who speaks about African-American communities and so forth.”

Stoudemire played for the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns and, from 2016 to 2019, he played for the Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem, of which he is still part owner, and later for Maccabi Tel Aviv. His well-documented conversion and embrace of Judaism — which has included everything from Orthodox Torah study to starting a kosher wine line to looking for a “shidduch,” or Jewish match — was the subject of an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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Progressives and pro-Israel groups each claim victories in May primaries

Thu, 2022-05-19 00:09

Progressives and pro-Israel groups are competing to shape the makeup of the next Congress, but each deemed the results of Tuesday’s congressional primaries an affirmation of their electoral strategies.

Summer Lee, a progressive candidate supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders and far-left members of Congress, declared victory in the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which includes Pittsburgh, over Steven Irwin, a Jewish candidate backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Lee said she “ beat back a multimillion-dollar smear campaign,” though at the time of publication, the race was too close to call. 

Lee currently leads Irwin by some 400 votes with 94% of precincts reported. 

An AIPAC spokesperson, noting the tightness of the race and  the victories of Don Davis and Valerie Foushee in North Carolina’s respective 1st and 4th Districts against far-left candidates, said the results proved that strong support for Israel is “good politics.”

The Lee-Irwin race is one of several key contests nationwide on which outside groups have spent millions to boost pro-Israel incumbents and moderate candidates. Independent expenditure committees formed by AIPAC and the Democratic Majority for Israel have spent a combined $11 million in recent weeks. 

Earlier this week, Sanders sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee, urging them to denounce “the many millions of dollars in dark money being spent by super PACs that are now attempting to buy Democratic primaries.” 

The pro-Israel point of view 

Marshall Wittmann, an AIPAC spokesman, said in an interview that regardless of the outcome, Irwin overcame a 25-point deficit in the polls in recent weeks “with the support of the pro-Israel community.” AIPAC spent $2.4 million on television commercials and mailers against Summer. It also spent $284,000 to boost Irwin and an additional $154,674 in individual contributions to Irwin’s campaign through its PAC.

AIPAC’s United Democracy Project spent $4.5 million in North Carolina House races to thwart  Erica Smith and Nida Allam, critics of Israel. The group also endorsed Morgan McGarvey, the Kentucky Senate’s minority leader, the winner in the race for retiring Rep. John Yarmuth’s seat in Kentucky’s 3rd District.

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The results “demonstrate the political effectiveness of the pro-Israel community,” Wittmann said. He added, “In a very short period of time since they were created, our PAC and super PAC have already had a significant impact on the political process.” 

The Democratic Majority for Israel’s PAC spent a combined $1.2 million in ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. Earlier this month, Rep. Shontel Brown, a first-term incumbent beat Nina Turner, a Sanders ally, with DMFI being the largest outside spender in the race. “We are pleased more pro-Israel Democrats will join Congress to continue the Democratic Party’s proud pro-Israel tradition,” said DMFI President Mark Mellman. 

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Jeff Mendelsohn, executive director of the Pro-Israel America bipartisan group, maintained that Irwin’s climb in the polls  shows that the more voters learned about the policy differences between the two candidates, the less they supported “Lee’s brand of divisive politics.”

Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for the liberal J Street PAC, acknowledged that massive spending does make a difference. But he added that the race in Pennsylvania’s 12th District showed that “a good principled candidate like Lee, who has popular support in the district and who has a coalition of Democratic-aligned groups who stand with her, can still overcome that overwhelming amount of spending.” J Street endorsed Lee and its newly-created super PAC, Action Fund, donated $50,000 to her campaign. 

Bayroff also said that the progressive candidates in North Carolina lacked the resources to push back against AIPAC and other outside groups opposing them. 

What’s next?

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a member of The Squad, cautioned that attacks against progressives won’t stop after the primaries. “We know that corporate Super PACs and billionaires are coming for us next,” she tweeted. Omar won her reelection bid in 2020 with a nearly 20-point margin despite a well-funded campaign against her.  

Bayroff said J Street will continue to spend in support of candidates aligned with their views in upcoming primaries and encourage candidates to reject AIPAC’s money. He said it’s important for Democratic candidates to “communicate very loudly and clearly to voters that this money that’s being spent in these races is coming from a group that doesn’t have the best interests of the Democratic Party at heart.” 

Wittmann said that AIPAC-affiliated activists “have every reason to be proud of their efforts, which will continue throughout this election cycle.” 

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AIPAC and J Street are involved in next week’s runoffs in Texas’ 15th and 28th Districts, as well as upcoming primaries in Illinois 3rd District, Maryland’s 4th District, and in a rare incumbent-vs.-incumbent primary in Michigan’s redrawn 11th District.

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On the Supreme Court docket, a Jewish pro-life group gets a Christian megaphone

Wed, 2022-05-18 23:45

After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the abortion case that is now roiling the nation, one of the groups that weighed in was a small nonprofit called the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation. 

In an official filing to the court called an amicus brief, the foundation cited the Torah, telling the court that “Jewish law prohibits abortion and Judaism obligates us to protect innocent life in the womb.”

Most American Jews disagree with that position — 4 out of 5 support abortion rights according to a recent Pew poll — and while Jewish law on the matter is complicated, it actually requires abortion in some circumstances.

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But what made the brief especially unusual was the organization that wrote and paid for it: a Christian nonprofit called the Justice Foundation. One court observer called it “quite irregular” for a Christian group to work with a Jewish group in this way. But the Jewish woman who says she sought out the partnership feels only gratitude for the assistance that allowed her to put her views before the court. 

It was one of four amicus briefs filed by the Texas-based organization, whose stated mission is “to restore proper respect for God’s word and law to American jurisprudence.”

A few other Jewish parties added their names to the brief, including the Coalition for Jewish Values, an Orthodox organization founded during the Trump administration that promotes conservative viewpoints.

But the engine of the brief was the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation and its founder, Cecily Routman, who said in an interview that she enlisted the Justice Foundation’s help after she was unable to find a Jewish lawyer to do the filing. She said she outlined the main points of her argument and Justice Foundation attorney Allan Parker wrote the brief — taking no money for it and covering more than $1,000 in printing costs. 

The Justice Foundation, she said, is made up of “Israel-loving, Jewish-loving Christian people.”

“You know, historically, good Christian people have helped us in many ways,” Routman, 63, said. “So they’re helping us again.”

Very few amicus briefs come to influence the outcome of a Supreme Court decision, but Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case in which the court seems poised to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade, has attracted an unusually high number — 140. Even when they don’t sway the justices, amicus briefs carry a symbolic heft, and may be quoted by justices in their questioning of lawyers, or in their opinions and dissents. Depending on the case, briefs with the imprimatur of a religious group can be particularly compelling.

Joshua Matz, partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, a public interest litigation firm that files several amicus briefs at the Supreme Court each year, said that it was typical for different religious groups to partner on an amicus brief — pro-choice Catholics worked with the National Council of Jewish Women on a brief supporting Jackson, for example. And firms who submit briefs will often represent their clients pro bono. But this brief, purporting to represent Jewish beliefs but written and funded by a Christian group, Matz said, was different.

“A lawyer’s job in an amicus brief is to present their client’s voice and arguments,” Matz said. “But what happened here seems quite irregular. If this brief was proposed, researched, written, filed, and otherwise conceptualized and orchestrated entirely by a Christian group, one might reasonably question who is actually speaking here.”

But Routman is far from a passive observer on the brief, and she takes credit for conceptualizing it. She is a dedicated pro-life advocate whose nonprofit is not only her full-time job — it’s also the primary expression of her Judaism.

‘Saving Jewish Lives, Healing Jewish Hearts’ Cecily Routman. Courtesy of Jewish Pro-Life Foundation

Routman, a resident of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh, grew up in the area in what she called a “normal, Jewish suburban household,” in which her dad prayed every day and the family went to synagogue every week. She was taught the mainstream Jewish position on abortion — which is that abortion may be permitted in certain circumstances.

Later in life, she said, a combination of “personal anguish, this sense of aimlessness and unhappiness with the secular world and materialism” caused her to reexamine her beliefs on the matter. She found more pro-life advocacy online.

It was hearing a Jewish woman on the radio say that abortion bans violated her religious freedom that pushed Routman to found her own nonprofit in 2006.

In the decade and a half since, she has almost single-handedly created a deep repository of pro-life education and advocacy resources, which includes a YouTube channel and a pro-life meme bank. An eight-person team runs the organization, according to its website, with Routman’s husband as treasurer.

The Jewish Pro-Life Foundation reported receipts of $12,465 in 2020. Routman, who said she runs it full-time and depends on an inheritance for financial support, does not take a salary.

That Jews as a group lean heavily pro-choice does not discourage her. On the contrary: she sees part of her role as counteracting their activism.

“When Jews are very out in the public as pro-abortion advocates, Judaism is seen as a religion that believes in killing children, and it foments antisemitism,” Routman said. “So we’re happy to be on the other side of it.”

But being in the Jewish minority on the issue comes with a downside: it made it hard to find a Jewish lawyer to take her case forward.

Making a match Allan Parker of the Justice Foundation. Image by

As Routman tells it, the seeds of the partnership were sown at the March for Life, a pro-life rally in Washington where she connected with the Justice Foundation’s Israel liaison. A year later, after her friend who runs the Jewish Coalition For Religious Liberty — a pro-life group that filed its own Dobbs amicus brief — told Routman she should file her own brief, she asked her Justice Foundation contact for help.

“I mentioned to her that I needed an attorney to file a brief for us at the Supreme Court,” Routman recalled, “and she said, ‘Well, we might be able to file that for you. Why don’t you send along the draft?’”

Though anyone can file an amicus brief at the Supreme Court, each brief must also have a “counsel of record,” a lawyer admitted to the court’s bar. It was an easy call for Justice Foundation co-founder Allan Parker, a member of the bar. He also agreed to pay the printing fees required to file the brief, which he said came out to around a couple thousand dollars.

“I felt very honored that they would ask us to do it,” Parker said.

The Justice Foundation — which does not affiliate with any Christian denomination, though Parker is an ordained Baptist minister — reported $763,511 in receipts in 2019, according to its most recent IRS filing, and expended about $53,882 in grants to other individuals and groups.

Routman, who said she sought divine inspiration for the task, then wrote her arguments: Judaism is a religion that holds life sacred, abortion is antithetical to Torah principles, and Jewish people have a moral authority on sanctity of life issues because of their experience in the Holocaust.

“All I know is, I stood in front of my computer, and I prayed to Hashem,”  Routman said, referring to God “And I said, ‘What do you want the court to read? What do you want the court to know? What do you want to tell the Supreme Court of the United States about unborn life in the womb and how precious it is and how Jews are asked to protect and defend innocent life?’ And that brief got written.”

Parker said he based the brief on her memo.

“The Justice Foundation did all of the writing and brief preparation of the brief that was submitted to the court,” he said, adding, “The bulk of the material that was given to us came from them.”

The brief draws from Jewish rabbinic leaders from Maimonides to Moshe Feinstein. But Christian influences also made their way into its arguments. While it refers to legal precedents, and the brief’s primary source is the Hebrew Bible, most of its biblical translations are from the New International Version, one of the most popular Christian versions of the Bible.

The brief also invokes the belief that life begins at conception, an idea that does not originate in Jewish thought, but which the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation has often included in its content.

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Indeed, the vast majority of it sounds like Routman, who traveled to Washington to represent her foundation as a counter-protestor at the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice.

“Jewish experiences historically as state sponsored targets of genocide and eugenics give us a unique opportunity to recognize the injustices wrought on our innocent brothers and sisters in the womb,” the brief says.

‘Makes perfect sense’

Routman acknowledged people might be surprised to see a Christian group filing a brief for a Jewish one. But she said her Jewish organization’s partnership with Christians was a natural fit.

Most of the Christian pro-life citations, she said, came from “our Tanach,” referring to the Hebrew Bible. And she found she had more in common with pro-life Christians than with pro-choice Jews.

“It only makes perfect sense,” she said, “because they respect and appreciate the Old Testament more than so many Jews do today.”

Parker agreed that the foundations shared theological roots.

“We all live in a society that is based on Judeo-Christian tradition,” Parker said. ‘And its respect for the law comes from the Judeo-Christian background, which obviously means the Christian part is based on the Judaism part.”

Because of the brief, Routman said, her organization has begun to gain acceptance in what she called “the traditional pro-life movement.” Her articles have been published in pro-life media, and she was invited to lead a prayer at a Christian pro-life event on December 1, the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Dobbs.

“When I started our group in 2006 I felt isolated and alone,” Routman said. “And one of the reasons I wanted to start it was I wanted to connect with other Jews who had similar sentiments as I did. So now, I’m not lonely at all. I’m busy every minute of every day connecting, talking, dialoguing, making new friends.”

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‘They don’t care’: Why it’s so hard to take antisemitic websites off the internet

Wed, 2022-05-18 21:52

After a white supremacist allegedly gunned down 10 African-Americans at a Buffalo grocery store Saturday, two of the social media websites he used to plan and promote the attack — Twitch and Discord — announced quick action in response.

The 18-year-old suspect identified by police appeared to have used Twitch to livestream a video of the shooting as it took place. The company, which is owned by Amazon, announced that it had removed it within two minutes. Discord, a platform for private chat rooms that the suspect reportedly used to discuss his antisemitism and desire to kill minorities, said it was investigating his use of the software.

Major social media companies have been under increasing pressure in recent years to crackdown on people using their websites to promote hate speech and extremist politics. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, has clashed repeatedly with Facebook over its content moderation policies and Twitter has been embroiled in controversy over its decision to ban some far-right politicians from the website.

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But many of the racist extremists who carried out violent attacks in recent years were far more active on “alt-tech” websites like 4chan, Kiwi Farm and BitChute, which face relatively little public scrutiny. Antisemitism is a fixture on almost all of these corners of the internet, ranging from Holocaust jokes to the theories of Jewish control that appear to have animated the Buffalo shooter.

Daniel Kelley, associate director of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, said that unlike Facebook, Twitter or Youtube — which insist they want to crackdown on extremism — these alternative social media platforms are shameless and immune from pressure.

“There’s no sense in exerting public pressure because they don’t care,” Kelley said. “They don’t want to be good public actors.”

The Buffalo suspect was active on 4chan, an online message board website notorious for its bigotry that has long resisted moderation or regulation. While 4chan was founded in 2003, it is part of an online ecosystem that has boomed in recent years as users kicked off of mainstream platforms have started new websites meant to offer the same services with fewer rules.

Kiwi Farms, an online forum used by the 2019 New Zealand mosque shooter, is known for launching targeted harassment campaigns that are banned on mainstream websites. Bitchute hosts the kind of far-right videos prohibited on Youtube, while DLive offers live streaming to neo-Nazis and other extremists blocked by Twitch.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” the man who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh wrote on Gab, a far-right Twitter alternative, shortly before the 2019 attack.

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One solution to addressing platforms whose owners take pride in an “anything goes” approach to content is to pressure the companies that provide their internet infrastructure. After it was revealed that three racist mass shooters in 2019 — New Zealand, Chabad of Poway and the El Paso Walmart attacker — had all regularly posted on 8chan, which is similar to 4chan, several of the third-party services that kept the website online stopped working with the company.

Cloudflare, which shields websites from cyberattacks, stopped protecting 8chan, and Voxility, which owned 8chan’s servers, where its data is stored, also terminated its relationship to 8chan.

“8chan ultimately survived,” according to an analysis last year by American University’s Tech, Law and Security Program, which worked with the ADL, “though the reach of its content and its accessibility to potential new users have been restricted by mainstream service providers’ refusal to associate with the site.”

Kelley said 8chan’s deplatforming can serve as a model for the service providers still working with 4chan and other platforms that offer online communities to violent extremists. He said the ADL was encouraging Cloudflare to set standards for which websites it will offer protection to, but that the company has generally insisted on a content-neutral approach.

“Businesses need to take a stand around who subscribes to their services,” Kelley said.

What is ‘extremist’?

But encouraging internet companies to blacklist certain websites poses censorship concerns as it effectively removes them from the internet altogether, a more far-reaching sanction than banning a single user from a platform like Twitter or Facebook.

Refusing to work with companies that host illegal content like child pornography, as 8chan was accused of doing, or that are being used to plan mass shootings, is relatively straightforward. But banning websites for extremism is a more fraught concept because there is little agreement on the definition.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, provoked a furious response from progressives after he delivered a speech earlier this month in which he placed pro-Palestinian groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and the Council on American Islamic Relations “in the same category as right-wing extremists.”

Kelley declined to say whether the policy the ADL wants companies like Cloudflare to adopt — banning “extremists” from using their services — would apply to a website hosted by, for example, Students for Justice in Palestine.

Ben Lorber, an analyst at the left-wing Political Research Associations, cautioned that online content moderation can only treat a symptom caused by the wider rise in violent white supremacist ideology.

He emphasized the need to directly address white nationalism and the Great Replacement theory, a racist conspiracy espoused by the Buffalo shooter.

“An approach which entrusts technocrats and mega-corporations to control the contours of public discourse ends up disempowering civil society, and, depending on who gets to define what is considered ‘extremist’ speech, could be used to silence progressive voices on issues of vital public concern,” Lorber said.

There is also a degree of whack-a-mole when it comes to pushing websites like 4chan off the internet, as far-right users are often able to move to new websites. But Kelley said that eliminating some of the most dangerous online forums is often more effective than banning a user from a single website like Twitter.

“The effort it takes to bring a website back online is several magnitudes harder than it is for someone to go from one to another,” he said.

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Sacha Baron Cohen to helm ‘Chelm,’ an HBO cartoon about the shtetl of fools

Wed, 2022-05-18 17:15

(JTA) – Imagine a village full of Borats, and you’re close to realizing the absurdity of Chelm.

The real-life Polish shtetl, a popular subject of Jewish folklore and Yiddish authors including Isaac Bachevis Singer, took on a mythic identity as a village of fools: a land populated and governed entirely by idiots, who solve problems in hilarious counterintuitive fashion.

Now Chelm is getting the screen treatment, headlined by an appropriate figure: the British Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, whose Borat character may be the closest thing modern popular culture has to a Chelm-like figure.

Cohen will develop the animated special “Chelm: The Smartest Place on Earth” for HBO Max alongside Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, known for “King of the Hill,” and Michael Koman, a former writer on “Nathan For You” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Cohen will also narrate the special.

The HBO Max press release indicates that the show will be geared towards younger audiences, marking a departure from most of Cohen’s adult-oriented humor.

“This unique project will breathe new, hysterical life into the nonsensical Chelmic wisdom that originated from this imaginary city of folks who aren’t quite the sharpest tools in the shed,” Amy Friedman, head of kids and family programming at HBO parent company Warner Bros., said in the release.

The shtetl special does not have a release date yet.

This piece was originally published on JTA.

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AIPAC-backed candidate prevails in NC primary in which endorsement became an issue

Wed, 2022-05-18 16:39

A pro-Israel, AIPAC-backed state senator beat out a candidate who had been vilified as anti-Israel in Tuesday’s North Carolina primary for a U.S. House seat. 

The district, in the Raleigh-Durham area, has reliably been held by Democrats.

The winner, Valerie Foushee, defeated first term Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam with 50 per cent of the vote. Allam had 34 percent, followed by American Idol finalist Clay Aiken.

The seat has been held for the past 30 years by Rep. David Price, who did not endorse a successor.

Allam, 28,  an observant Muslim, and critic of Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories, was bidding to join “The Squad” in Congress. Three members of the progressive group endorsed her.

Foushee’s victory was fueled by millions of dollars in campaign donations from pro-Israel PACs, as well as by a string of Democratic establishment endorsements.

These contributions included $433,000 directly from AIPAC; $1.47 million from the AIPAC-affiliated United Democracy Project; $982,000 from Protect Our Future PAC, financed by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried (including a personal contribution of $2,900); and $218,000 from the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC.

Most of that money, contributed by out of state donors, paid for campaign advertising. And some of the ads referenced a push poll that asserted — without proof — that Allam was affiliated with “radical anti-Israel activists,” an apparent reference to her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The pro-Israel support dwarfed the amount raised by both Allam and Aiken, who would have been the first openly gay member of Congress from a Southern state.

While U.S. Mideast policy did not emerge as a campaign issue, the pro-Israel contributions became the subjects of endorsements, open letters and op-ed columns. One progressive group and several office holders withdrew their support for Foushee over the AIPAC donations. For many of the district’s Jewish voters, and even more so nationally, the contest devolved into a referendum on Israel. 

In an open letter to the influential local alt-weekly, the Indy, which endorsed Allam, a group called Jews for Democracy wrote, “We call on AIPAC and Sam Bankman-Fried to stop trying to buy this congressional seat, and we ask all candidates in this race to refuse to accept their support.”  

However, Rabbi Daniel Greyber, of Beth-El Synagogue, a Conservative congregation near the Duke University campus, sharply disagreed, in an op-ed co-written for WRAL-TV.

Greyber, in making the case for Foushee, said he was concerned about “an ongoing effort to silence pro-Israel voices in the progressive wing of the Democratic party,” and continued “we reject litmus tests for politicians that will reduce the number of elected officials who support Israel.”

In addition to members of The Squad, Allam was endorsed by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Locally, she was supported by the Durham People’s Alliance PAC, and former Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, who is Jewish and who cited the AIPAC involvement in the race in his decision.

Foushee, 65, who is African American, was supported by two dozen local and state office holders, as well as North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who is also Jewish, as well as by outgoing Rep. G. K. Butterfield, from the neighboring 1st District, and the Congressional Black Caucus. She was also endorsed by the influential Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

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The Secret Jewish history of The Who

Wed, 2022-05-18 15:30

Editor’s Note: In honor of Pete Townshend’s 77th birthday, we revisit his band’s Jewish history that we first looked into in 2015.

The Who, the English rock group, is in the midst of yet another tour, one that they say may be their last — a claim they have been making since at least 1982. On this tour, the Who are mostly performing their best-known hits and fan favorites, including songs like “Pinball Wizard” from their rock opera, “Tommy.”

If the group’s visionary songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend had had his way, “Tommy” — an allegory about a traumatized messiah — would not have been the band’s first rock opera. Following a visit to Caesarea, Israel in 1966 with his first wife, Karen Astley, and the subsequent outbreak of the Six-Day War, Townshend began work on “Rael,” a song cycle loosely based on Israel’s struggle to survive despite being massively outnumbered by its enemies. “Rael” — short for “Israel” — got sidetracked, partly due to the demands of the Who’s record company for faster delivery of more hit singles, and “Rael” was consigned to the shelf. The only song that has surfaced from that project is called “Rael” and appears on the late 1967 album, “The Who Sell Out.”

A deeper examination of who Pete Townshend is, which he provides in his aptly titled autobiography, “Who I Am,” reveals a man who, while not Jewish himself, has great empathy for the Jewish people and who sees the world very much through the eyes of a Jewish-influenced character.

The son of musicians with a tempestuous marriage, Townshend in his early years was shuffled around among relatives, friends and neighbors while his parents came and went, carrying on relationships outside of their marriage. In his autobiography, Townshend waxes nostalgic not for the comfort of his family, but for the Jewish world that protected him: “We shared our house with the Cass family, who lived upstairs and, like many of my parents’ closest friends, were Jewish. I remember noisy, joyous Passovers with a lot of Gefilte fish, chopped liver and the aroma of slow-roasting brisket.”

 

English Rock musicians Roger Daltrey (left), on vocals, and Pete Townshend, on guitar, both of the group the Who, perform onstage at the International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, December 8, 1979. Photo by Getty Images

After a stint being raised by his grandmother, a period during which he was abused by her and the parade of boyfriends tramping in and out of her flat, he returned home to his parents. Again, his surroundings gave him the most security and happiness: “I was seven, and happy to be home again, back in the noisy flat with a toilet in the back yard and the delicious aroma of Jewish cooking from upstairs. It was all very reassuring.”

The Who evolved from a band called the Detours originally led by vocalist Roger Daltrey, who played guitar at the time. The band included bassist John Entwistle, a high school chum of Townshend’s. When the group’s lead guitarist quit the band, Entwistle recommended his friend. As Townshend tells it, the audition went something like this:

Daltrey: “Can you play “Hava Nagilah”?”

Townshend: “Yes.”

Daltrey: “You’re in. See you next Tuesday night.”

And so began The Who, a unique group of misfit musicians, none of whom played their instruments in conventional fashion. Drummer Keith Moon was no mere timekeeper; his was more of a textural, orchestral approach, and if you listen to the group’s early singles you’ll be surprised to hear drum solos where there would typically be guitar solos, which Townshend rarely played. Bassist John Entwistle filled the musical mid-range with soaring arpeggios and riffs, more like the work of a keyboardist than a bassist. And Townshend approached the guitar purely as a vehicle for sound and impact. “In rock ‘n’ roll the electric guitar was becoming the primary melodic instrument, performing the role of the saxophone in jazz and dance music, and the violin in Klezmer,” Townshend wrote.

In recent years, Townshend’s thoughts have once again turned back toward the concerns he expressed “Rael.” As he told an interviewer for Rolling Stone in 2006:

Last week, I was reading about this book that’s just come out. It’s about the Polish Jews who got out of concentration camps and went back to their homes, which had been taken over by Christians who assumed the Jews weren’t coming back. What happened was another wave of anti-Semitism in which dozens were slaughtered by Christians in Warsaw. The premise for it was that there was witchcraft going on. The Jews, of course, drank the blood of children. Been there, done that. F—king hell. And I asked myself, ‘Why am I so heated up about this f—-king story?’ But it’s because, as a kid, my best friend, Mick Leiber, was a Jew. We grew up in a community that was about a third Polish. We lived in a house that divided in two, and in the top part lived a Jewish family who were quite devout. Polish Jews were the kids I played with. They were my people. I remember saying to my mother, ‘Aren’t Polish people from Poland?’ And she said, ‘Yes, they were Britain’s first ally in the war.’ I’d say, ‘But they’re not like foreigners. They’re just like we are.’ And she said, “Yes, they’re just like we are.”

Unlike other fellow British rockers, most notably Roger Waters and Elvis Costello, who are vocal supporters of a cultural boycott of Israel, Townshend holds a pro-Israel stance, as he told the same Rolling Stone interviewer regarding the Who’s album, “Endless Wire,” a 10-song “mini-opera” about kids forming a rock band in the post-9/11 world.

And where are we today? We’re in the same anti-Semitic apologetic denial — it’s a dishrag of a policy. Trying to blame Israel for defending a country we created. And I’m not even Jewish! Jesus f—king Christ. And let’s start with him! Sweet Jesus. This album absolutely had to have several songs about Jesus the man, Muhammad the man, but not modern Christianity or Islam. They are both potentially anti-Semitic today. And I think the fact is that, when I was working on this album I just thought, ‘It’s f—king about time that I completed my story.’ At this time in my life, with nuclear threats coming from Iran and Korea, I am becoming so impatient with the ex-hippies all around me. I am suddenly thinking like an extreme reactionary, right-wing, warmongering… F—king hell, come inside my brain! The incredible numbers of dead in the last war make it clear that we can’t afford to wait to be hit again. That’s my opinion. That’s my story. Peace is something that has to be made. It doesn’t come from passivity.

Incidentally, “Endless Wire” also includes a song called “Trilby’s Piano,” a song about the hidden, forbidden love of a Jewish man named “Hymie,” sung by Townshend.

Apparently, Townshend’s immersion in all things Jewish has rubbed off on his longtime musical partner , Roger Daltrey, who, when asked a while back if the band would really stop touring, groaned like an old Jewish man, “We will always do shows for charity, when we can, because it’s of enormous value to people and Pete [Townshend] and I love to play. But we won’t do long, schlepping tours. It’s killing us.”

Seth Rogovoy frequently writes about the intersection of popular culture and Jewishness for the Forward. He has often been mistaken on the streets of major metropolitan areas for Pete Townshend.

The post The Secret Jewish history of The Who appeared first on The Forward.

Where have all the hanging ducks gone?

Wed, 2022-05-18 15:07

I’ve always thought there is nothing better than eating Chinese food in China. But if you can’t get there, and you want superb Chinese cuisine, there’s always Flushing, Queens, New York. Within a mile radius of its center you can find restaurants replicating all of the exciting dishes I ever tasted in China. The streets teem with people speaking Mandarin and Cantonese, hurrying to go I know not where. As you walk the streets your eyes focus on the storefront windows where dark caramel-colored roast ducks hang next to sides of pig and barbecued spare ribs. The parade of food displays is unending. Seafood shops next to vegetable shops next to bakeries next to spice stores and supermarkets. You can be so affected by the surroundings that you forget you’re in New York.

At least twice a month, for as far back as my memory will allow, I’ve been driving from my home in Pelham, New York, over the Whitestone Bridge to Flushing. I take Main Street, make a left, park my car in a huge lot and walk back toward Main Street on 37th Avenue. Four minutes later, I find myself in front of Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant. In I go, where I’m greeted by the host, whose name I do not know (even after 20 years) and ushered to a table. If I’m alone, he asks if my friend will be joining me. Quite often, my friend, Alan Fox, who also loves Chinese food, meets me here. Whether I’m with Alan or not I always order the same thing — soup dumplings with pork and crabmeat and an order of shredded turnip pastry. I order two or three portions of turnip pastry, which I love, so I can take it home and deposit it in my freezer, should a craving occur at a time when I’m not in Flushing.

 

A view of the Whitestone Bridge. Photo by Getty Images

On leaving the restaurant, I deposit the pastries in my car, then continue my journey. For the next hour or so I walk the streets in search of food to take home. At the Taipan Bakery on Main Street, I buy roasted pork buns, curry beef pastry and maybe an egg tart. Then I keep going down Main Street in search of the most succulent roast duck I can find hanging in a window. Then, it’s on to the fish stores where I mostly look, not buy, unless lobsters are on sale and appear well taken care of. Next, a vegetable store, where I buy Chinese Eggplant (long and purple) so I can make eggplant in garlic sauce. By now I am loaded with packages and must find my way back to the car for the trip home. If my energy returns, I might make a final stop at the College Point Sky Foods, one of the largest Asian supermarkets in the country.

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These twice-a-month trips to Flushing all occurred pre-COVID.I have not been to Flushing just as I have not been to the theater, movies, restaurants or concerts. Now that I have received my two Pfizer vaccinations and booster shot, I feel ready to resume my pre-COVID normal activities, so trips to Flushing are back on the agenda.

Sitting on a bench at Orchard Beach on a warm and sunny day, I see the towers of the Whitestone Bridge majestically reaching toward the blue sky above, which reminds me that I have recently considered renewing my trips to Flushing. I miss the place.

But when I actually do make my first trip back there, I feel something of a surprise and shock.

A view of Joe’s Shanghai restaurant in Chinatown in May, 2020. Photo by Getty Images

 

Where have all the hanging ducks gone? I cruise up and down Main Street, in and out of side streets, in search of hanging ducks, but they are nowhere to be found. I turn on to 37th Avenue, leaving behind a once-thriving square block of parking structure; it’s now boarded up and empty. I find myself directly in front of what used to be my favorite restaurant in Flushing, Joe’s Shanghai, with its soup dumplings and turnip cake. It’s no more, gone, all boarded up and dilapidated, like it never existed, and my friend who used to come with me here died a few years ago. The internet says Joe’s Shanghai is “closed permanently.” Does that mean no more turnip cake? Maybe I’ll have to go to the Joe’s Shanghai in Manhattan; so far, it’s still open.

I’m lucky. I find a parking spot on the street, park and start my walk, intent on doing some shopping. The whole scene feels different: fewer people in the streets, some of the bakeries, fish and vegetable stores, and food courts, closed. It’s very disheartening, and I’m not sure how I want to proceed given the new circumstances.

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Sky Foods must still be here, I think. I get back into my car and drive the short distance to the Sky View Center Mall. I park in the garage. When I enter Sky Foods, it’s as big and as full of shoppers as it always was. For me, this is a much-needed surprise.

The fish section is very long, clean and well stocked with fish beautifully displayed just as it always was, maybe even better, or is this just wishful thinking? I come upon the lobster tanks — there are three or four, and everything looks pure and clean. I have no choice: I have to buy a pound-and-a-half lobster for dinner. My spirit has been lifted; I return to the car and drive home.

That night, Llewellyn and I dine on lobster in black bean sauce. Delicious!

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Len Berk is the Forward’s lox columnist. You can find him on Thursdays behind the lox counter at Zabar’s.

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If you could save your family or the rest of the world, which would you choose?

Wed, 2022-05-18 14:30

“I write about strong women, and women breaking barriers — strong Jewish women who are fighting for new positions in the world, who are fighting to change the world,” Rachel Barenbaum told me  Barenbaum is the author of the novels “A Bend in the Stars” and the recently published “Atomic Anna,” “I love talking about that, and I love that to be front and center,” she said.

“A Bend in the Stars,” published in 2019, is set in 1914, in pre-World War I Russia — a world of violent antisemitism — and concerns a Jewish sister and brother. She’s a surgeon and he’s a scientist racing to try to be the first to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

In “Atomic Anna,” Barenbaum imagines the chief engineer at Chernobyl in 1986 in the Soviet Union to be a Jewish woman, Anna Berkova, and that the explosion at the nuclear facility allows Berkova to travel in time, which will allow her to help prevent the disaster. The plot also involves Anna’s child, Molly, whom she had given up decades earlier to a Soviet Jewish couple that emigrated to Philadelphia, and Anna’s granddaughter, Raisa.

Critics have called “Atomic Anna” “an incredible achievement,” “masterfully plotted,” “lyrical and unflinching” and “propulsive and intimate.”

In “A Bend in the Stars,” each section is named for a month of the Jewish calendar. The first words of “Atomic Anna” are “Pirkei Avot” — “Chapters of the Fathers,” a renowned ancient book of Jewish ethical teachings. And quotes from it begin each section.

“I go to synagogue most Shabbats,” Barenbaum told me. “We have Shabbat dinner. I grew up in Philadelphia, at Germantown Jewish Center. It’s a very big synagogue. It’s conservative in the main sanctuary but there are all different minyanim throughout the building — upstairs, downstairs, all around. So I grew up with Reconstructionist, Reform, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, all under one roof. The Jewish roots were deep, and the questions — the ethical and moral questions coming from Judaism were very deep and something discussed all the time. ‘We’re all Jews under this roof. What does that mean?’ ”

“I read ‘Pirkei Avot’ for the first time in full in Israel when I was a Shalem Center fellow in Jerusalem, in 1998-99,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a philosopher. I was reading these questions, and I’ve been fascinated with the book ever since.”

“‘Pirkei Avot’ brings up morality in these big juicy questions that I love to address in my ‘Atomic Anna’ characters,” she said. “They’re three generations of women who are fighting to build a time machine. It’s about saving their family, stopping Chernobyl. And the bigger question that they face right from the beginning for is, for Anna, should I save my child and my family or should I go back and stop Chernobyl and save thousands and thousands of people?”

 

As it rewrites the history of Chernobyl, ‘Atomic Anna’ is a novel drenched in Jewish philosophy, comic books, and moral questions. Photo by Grand Central Publishing

This is a question similar ones that Jews have faced many times in history, Barenbaum said: “Should we save the children or should we save the elderly? Who should we save? Why?”

“You might be able to sit in this room and say you think you know the answer, and maybe I can say what’s right or what I think is right. But when you are in that moment — when I start the book and Anna is on Mount Aragats [in Armenia] and is holding her dying child, and that question,” the family or Chernobyl, “comes up, how do you choose? How can you choose in the moment? And that is what ‘Pirkei Avot’ addresses. There are no answers, ‘Pirkei Avot’ is all about questions. That is why it’s in my book. To keep us talking about it  So when the moment comes we are ready to talk about it.”

Both of Barenbaum’s novels demonstrate her strong interest in Russia and its history.

“My family on one side came over from Russia,” she said. “My grandmother died when I was very young but her two sisters came to our house very often on Friday nights. They would always call me over. I was the oldest. I loved them very much but they smelled like herring and Manischewitz and it was scary. And they would say to me, ‘Do you know where the passports are?’ And ‘Do you know where the emergency money is?’ Because that was my job. I grew up with that. They spoke to each other in Yiddish but I was only allowed to speak English with them.  I wanted to know, I would say ‘Why did they leave?’ We had all these photographs all over the house of these old relatives and I would ask, ‘Who are they?’ and ‘Why did they leave?’ and ‘Where are they now?’ and I never really got answers. So of course that’s all I ever wanted to know about. They would say ‘You never go to the Soviet Union, we’re never going back there.’ So I’ve spent my life wondering about that time, wondering about Russia. That’s where my books start — because of that fascination.”

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The concern about passports and emergency money came, of course, from the uncertainty of life in Russia and the Soviet Union — the antisemitism, the violence, the pogroms, the knowledge that the Cossacks might be coming, the knowledge that it could happen any time.

“Even in America, ” she asid.

Critics have noted that one theme of her books is that even small decisions can greatly affect the future.

“In ‘Atomic Anna’ I spend time defining the rules of time travel,” she said. “I go by the rules of two. You can travel someplace for only two hours. You can travel back there only two times. The characters talk often about it’s not a lot of time. But it is a lot of time. Because you can change little pieces, and the little pieces add up to big things. I believe that in everything, you can make one small change, make one little decision, and it snowballs into something that is much larger. That’s something that happens with my characters. You see that with Anna and Molly and Raisa throughout the book. And also in real life too.”

In “Atomic Anna,” comic books play a major role. Molly is a comic-book artist, and Atomic Anna is a comic-book character. I asked her why comic books play such an important role in her novel.

“In the 1970s, when Molly comes into comic books, we are in the middle of the second wave of feminism, as it’s called — Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm,” Barenbaum said. “This is the moment, and I love that moment, we were fighting for universal child care, women’s rights — everything that now may be torn down if Roe v. Wade goes down. But that was the fight, and I love that energy, and Molly gets swept up in it because in the comic-book world with people like Trina Robbins [a cartoonist in the underground comic movement] we have women who are depicting in comics their struggle and the changes they want. This a major moment. Up until that point women in comic books are being thrown in refrigerators all the time, and they’re fighting over men. And then you see Trina Robbins come along and say not any more! And I love that moment and I wanted to capture it.”

 

Rachel Barenbaum’s previous novel, ‘A Bend in the Stars,’ concerned the race to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Photo by Grand Central Publishing

 

Barenbaum had another reason for making Molly an artist. “Different people see the world in different ways,” she said. “I knew that Anna was going to be a scientist and Raisa was a mathematician. And there’s another way to see the world. You can see the world in terms of numbers and theories, but how about in terms of light and shapes and what’s around us? So I knew Molly was going to be an artist.

In the fall, Barenbaum will be a scholar in residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University. She’s also at work on a book of short stories. “It’s about six Jewish women who were assassins and bomb makers during the Russian Revolution,” she said.

 

Mervyn Rothstein was a writer and editor for 30 years at The New York Times, where his positions included chief theater reporter and theater editor of the Sunday Arts and Leisure section. He was a writer for Playbill Magazine for 30 years. And he was a member of the Nominating Committee for Broadway’s Tony Awards.

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‘A clarion call’: Buffalo’s Jewish community responds to mass shooting

Tue, 2022-05-17 21:47

A mass shooting at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y. killed 10 and wounded three, and opened a national conversation about the insidiousness of the racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories that appear to have motivated the suspected shooter.

It also deprived a predominantly Black neighborhood of its primary grocery store. Beyond the Tops, the area is a food desert, with little access to affordable, healthy options for buying groceries. 

In response, the Buffalo Jewish Federation has teamed up with the Buffalo Community Fridge, Black Love Resists in the Rust and other racial justice organizations to help close the gap.

Buffalo is one of the most racially segregated cities in America. While there is not a significant Jewish presence in Buffalo’s East Side, where the shooting took place, the attack reverberated throughout the city’s Jewish community. The president of the Buffalo Jewish Federation runs a steel company; one of his employees was killed in the attack, Rob Goldberg, CEO of the Buffalo Jewish Federation, said in an interview. And a leader of Buffalo’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) works for a state senator; one of his co-workers is the mother of one of the three people wounded but not killed in the attack. “It’s, like, two or three degrees of separation,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg’s interview with the Forward has been edited for length and clarity.

In the aftermath of the shooting, how is the Buffalo Jewish Federation responding?

The Federation and our JCRC put out a statement yesterday. It was important for us to express a message that we stand shoulder to shoulder, and arm in arm, with our Black community, which was the target of this horrific terrorist attack.

We have been developing and nurturing relationships with Black leadership since the onset of the JCRC five years ago. In 2017, we took a trip to Israel; we had 24 clergy, over a third of whom were Black clergy from our community, several of whom have churches or a presence on the East Side of Buffalo. The relationships that were developed — on the bus, at the Wall, over breakfast — have helped us during this crisis. We reached out to them, and we are taking our lead from what they feel is needed at this point.

It’s a two-pronged approach. Food insecurity is a major issue for that part of our community because this grocery store is the only one in that part of the East Side. The people in that neighborhood depend on that store to provide them with not only food, but other kinds of goods — diapers, formula, prescription medicine. The store is closed indefinitely because it’s now a crime scene, so there’s been a real concern about making sure that people in those communities have access to those resources. Even though the market is providing shuttle buses to other locations, we’re working closely with the community and channeling our community members to make contributions of both food and financial resources to FeedMore WNY

The second thing is to be a presence for the community — to show up. And so we moved very quickly Sunday morning to get members of the Jewish community to come to an impromptu prayer vigil that we found out about late Saturday night. We had two dozen people there that were part of a crowd of about 150 to 175. It was important that we were there.

What other community needs is the Federation trying to meet?

I think what’s going to emerge from this incident is an opportunity for a more open dialogue between the Black community and the white community, between the Black community and law enforcement — all these issues that sort of bubble to the surface when something like this happens. We have been present, and we will continue to lend our voice — our voice of calm, our voice of love, our voice of care. 

It’s the core value of Jewish community relations as we try to do tikkun olam, repair the world, and so we’re going to live that out. And we’re going to embrace any opportunity to be of more assistance. 

What effect is this work having on you?

Our hearts are broken. It was very emotional to be part of the prayer vigil on Sunday; it’s a clarion call for us to do more to not stand by the sidelines and just watch, but to be involved based on how we can be most helpful. 

How can Jews outside of Buffalo support the Buffalo community right now?

Checking in with us, asking “How are you doing?” and “What can we do to be helpful?” is so meaningful. And I’ve been steering people to this Facebook post that has a variety of different organizations that are providing food resources. That’s where the need is right now.

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The gunman killed Black people. But his screed focuses on Jews.

Tue, 2022-05-17 21:45

When a shooter entered a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and opened fire Saturday, killing 10 people, he was targeting Black people. In the diatribe he published to explain his motivations, though, he perplexingly focuses much more on another group: Jews.

In a Q&A in which he both poses and answers the questions, the gunman admits to holding a host of bigoted views. “Are you a white supremacist? Yes, I would call myself a white supremacist,” he writes. “Are you racist? Yes.”

But on the answer to the next question, he places more emphasis than he does anywhere else in the section. “Are you an anti-semite?” he asks himself.

YES!!” he answers, in bolded all-caps. “I wish all JEWS to HELL! Go back to hell where you came from DEMON!”

A close reading of his rambling screed reveals a mind steeped in virulent antisemitism.

The main body of the 180-page document is split into sections, each focusing on a demographic group. The first section, on Black people, contains 11 pages of racist falsehoods. The next, on Jews, stretches to 30 pages, filled with rantings, infographics, memes, and pseudoscience. Additional sections on East Asian, Arab, and white people are less than one page each.

In total, the screed mentions Jews more than 100 times. The section on Jews also appears to be largely the original work of the shooter, rather than copied from the statement of the gunman responsible for a 2019 mass killing of Muslims in New Zealand, from which other portions of the document are taken.

A warped ideology

The document explains that the shooter was motivated by the great replacement theory, the idea that elites are plotting to use immigration and the demographic shifts it causes to dilute the political and cultural influence of white, ethnically European Christians.

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In many versions, including the one espoused by the Buffalo shooter, Jews are pegged as the elites masterminding the plot.

Rooted in xenophobic fears of a multicultural future, the theory has been gaining ground in increasingly mainstream conservative circles, including on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, in a campaign ad for Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, and on Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida’s Twitter feed.

The shooter begins the section by invoking the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews “control the mainstream media, many government positions, and international and global banking.”

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He continues, leaning into antisemitic conspiracy theories, “they advocate for leftist ideology, and spread propaganda among the right. They spread their lies through all forms of media. They want us to divide ourselves by race, instead of goy and non-goy, like they already do.”

Surveys show that American Jews have a range of political ideologies, and that most Jews, whose ancestors have been in this country for generations, are highly integrated into mainstream American culture. There is a long history of Jewish solidarity with racial minority groups — a 2020 Pew survey found that more than half consider “working for justice and equality in society” to be essential to their Jewish identity.

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The shooter then takes an even darker turn, calling for genocide in a disturbing echo of the Holocaust: “The real war I’m advocating for is the gentiles vs the Jews. We outnumber them 100x, and they are not strong by themselves. But by their Jewish ways, they turn us against each other. When you realize this you will know that the Jews are the biggest problem the Western world has ever had. They must be called out and killed, if they are lucky they will be exiled. We can not show any sympathy towards them again.”

The shooter purports to show a degree of tolerance for Jews as an ethnicity but directly attacks Judaism as a religion.

He misquotes Jewish sacred texts, claiming that the Talmud allows pedophilia and permits the exploitation of non-Jews. “Jews will tell you that they do not support these any more, but in reality this is what they all seek,” he writes.

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The shooter then spends 23 pages sharing antisemitic cartoons, infographics, and other social media posts.

One post features a photo gallery of staff members at six major American news outlets with Jewish stars next to each headshot (though some depicted are not, in fact, Jewish). Among those shown as working at The New York Times is Jodi Rudoren, who left there in 2019 and is now the Forward’s editor-in-chief.

Many are incoherent. One post falsely claims that 78 percent of slave owners were Jews. Another screenshots the Wikipedia entry of Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, underlining the fact that she grew up with a Jewish stepfather. On another page, he compiles screenshots of news stories highlighting Israel’s role in the illegal organ trade, such as one from Haaretz from 2014. Racist images caricaturing Jewish facial features appear throughout.

The section’s conclusion reiterates antisemitic stereotypes, promoting a false narrative that Jews seek to divide and conquer other groups: “They will stop at nothing to ensure that they have full control over the goyim.”

He continues: “For our self-preservation, the Jews must be removed from our Western civilizations, in any way possible.”

A potent stew of hatred

Elsewhere in the document, the shooter paints a clear picture of his path to radicalization and the sources of his views.

He wrote that he was bored at the start of the pandemic, and started browsing 4chan, an anonymous internet forum known for hosting right-wing content, and within that website, /pol/, an antisemitic imageboard. “There I learned through infographics, shitposts, and memes” about the great replacement theory, “and that the Jews and the elite were behind this. From there, I also found other sites,” including the neo-Nazi message board The Daily Stormer, “where through data and exposure to real information I learned the truth.”

His words highlight how hatred festers on unregulated social media platforms, and how antisemitism merges there with racism and other ideologies into a toxic stew.

They also raise a question that the attacker asks himself in the Q&A: “Why attack immigrants when the Jews are the issue?” He answers, ominously, “because they can be dealt with in time,” adding later, “I can’t possibly attack all groups at once so might as well target one.”

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‘Whose religious freedom?’: Scenes from a Jewish rally for abortion rights

Tue, 2022-05-17 21:39

The “Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice” drew roughly 1,500 Jews to the National Mall Tuesday, where rabbis and activists proclaimed that the anti-abortion movement does not have a monopoly on faith.

Organized by the National Council of Jewish Women, the crowd drew from Jewish communities as far away as Chicago.

Sheila Katz, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Sheila Katz, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice.“Whose religious freedom are you trying to protect?” NCJW chief Sheila Katz asked of those who are seeking to outlaw abortion. “Not ours.”

The rally had been planned months before the leak earlier this month of a draft Supreme Court opinion that showed a majority of justices poised to overturn Roe, the 1973 decision that found a constitutional right to abortion. But registration exploded after Politico published the draft.

Renee Bracey Sherman, founder of We Testify, said that when she had an abortion the nurse who helped her through the process was an Orthodox Jew. “People of faith — Jewish people — support and love people who have abortions,” Sherman told the crowd.

Despite other opportunities to protest over the last two weeks, many in attendance said that it was important to show up at an explicitly Jewish event. Here are what some of them had to say.

‘It’s in the Bible’ Andrea Barron, of Camp Spring, Maryland, during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 2022. Photo by Eric Lee for The Forward

Andrea Barron wandered through the crowd at the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice on the National Mall Tuesday morning carrying a handmade sign that read: “Jewish Women for Abortion Rights: It’s in the Bible.”

“It’s very important that people know it’s in the Bible,” said Barron, who lives just outside Washington, D.C.

Barron said she brings her sign to the Supreme Court twice a week, where she hands out a flyer to anti-abortion protesters with information about Jewish views on abortion. She found a more sympathetic audience at the gathering on Tuesday, on a grassy field in the shadow of the Capitol.

‘Central to my morals’ Jake, who wished to not disclose their last name and a student at George Mason University, poses for a portrait during The Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 2022. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

“My Judaism is really central to my morals,” said Jake, 20, who attended with other members of George Mason University’s Hillel and declined to provide a last name. “Fighting with Jews – and as a faith group – is really important.”

‘There wasn’t going to be any antisemitism’ A demonstrator holds a sign during The Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 2022. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Susanne Perla said that she supported abortion rights but was turned off by the inclusion of what she described as anti-Israel groups at some other feminist events, like the Women’s March in 2017.

“I figured that here I can express my opinion with this group and there wasn’t going to be any antisemitism,” said Perla, who attended the rally with her husband and teenage daughter.

Several women waved signs from Hadassah, the Jewish women’s group that co-sponsored the rally, reading: Pro-Choice, Pro-Woman, Pro-Israel.

‘Religious rights’ Amanda Herring, 32, and her child Abraham, 1, of Washington, D.C., pose for a portrait during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Amanda Herring, director of Jewish life at the Edlavitch JCC in Washington brought a shofar and her 16-month-old son Abraham to the event. She blew the shofar as the crowd applauded various speakers.

“Jewish law says that a woman’s life takes priority over a potential life,” said Herring, 32. “I’m protecting my Jewish religious rights and protecting women.

‘A Jewish value’ Michelle Rechtman, 21, a student at George Washington University, poses for a portrait during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Michelle Rechtman, a communications major at The George Washington University, said the Jewish nature of the gathering showed “that religious freedom should represent all religions.”

“Abortion is a Jewish value and a right,” said Rechtman, 21.

‘Opinions of the Torah’ Anti-abortion protesters are confronted by pro-choice supporters during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice near the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

A handful of counter-protesters affiliated with the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation walked around the periphery of the crowd carrying signs and trailed by police. “This rally does not express opinions of the Torah,” one of the signs read.

‘Some way, shape or form’ Carolyn Bow, 57, of Richmond, Virginia, poses for a portrait during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Others said the fact it was a Jewish event was not central to their participation. Carolyn Bow, 57, took a 6 a.m. train from Richmond, Virginia to attend the rally with a Jewish friend. “I wanted to come up in some way, shape or form,” said Bow, who was raised Catholic.

‘Doing everything’ Tessa Spear, 18, from Brooklyn, New York, poses for a portrait during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

Tessa Spear, 18, traveled from Brooklyn, New York, on a bus with members of Congregation Beth Elohim. “I wanted to feel like I was doing everything I could because it’s really important,” said Spear. “It is not important for me that it’s specifically a Jewish event but I think that’s great  because it pushes back against religious positions around ‘pro-life.’”

A woman wears socks reading, “Protect Roe v. Wade” during the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice. Photo by Eric Lee for the Forward

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France’s newly-appointed prime minister is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor

Tue, 2022-05-17 19:22

Élisabeth Borne stepped up to a microphone before a crowd of spectators eager to hear her speak — where only one other woman ever had before. 

In front of The Élysée Palace in Paris on Monday, Borne, 61, the daughter of a Jewish Polish refugee, shook hands with outgoing PM Jean Castex for the ceremonial exchange of power to become France’s second female Prime Minister. 

“I’d like to dedicate my appointment to all the little girls in telling them: ‘Live your dreams. Never stop fighting for a woman’s place in society,” she told the crowd, and the audience of women watching from all over France. 

Borne’s father, Joseph Bornstein, was born in Poland and fled to France in 1939 to escape the Nazis. Because he was captured while part of the French Resistance, Bornstein was deported from France and served time in Auschwitz, but was later freed. 

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When he passed away in 1972, Borne was given “pupil of the Nation” privileges, a French civic status that gives educational benefits to children whose parents have been injured or killed in war or other attacks. 

She attended Ecole nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, one of France’s oldest and most prestigious universities, and went on to serve as Environment, Transportation and Labor Minister and on Macron’s cabinet. 

The only other woman to hold the office of prime minister in France was Édith Cresson, who entered office in 1992. Today, Borne is one of only six female prime ministers to lead one of the 27 EU member states.

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In the weeks to come, Borne will be busy with France’s most pressing issues as well as legislative elections, in which she’ll try to secure a majority for the centrist party that she and Macron represent. 

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Why Ed Koch’s response to AIDS was very political and not very Jewish

Tue, 2022-05-17 14:00

A decorous, unjudgmental New York Times article appeared May 7 about the sexuality of the late American Jewish politician Ed Koch.

Based on interviews with Koch friends and sympathizers, the article described how the onetime New York mayor publicly denied his own homosexuality, while admitting it to intimates, a fact that is long familiar to theatergoers who saw Larry Kramer’s 1985 play “The Normal Heart” or Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” (1991).

Kramer and Kushner, both gay Jewish writers, excoriated Koch for having been slow to react to the outbreak of AIDS when he served as mayor in the 1980s. One theory is that Koch did not wish to appear to favor the sexual minority he belonged to, since AIDS at the time was incorrectly identified as mainly affecting gay men and intravenous drug users.

Jack Drescher, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, wrote to the Times to express his “anger about the closeted mayor who refused to advocate forcefully enough” for his fellow citizens, “with tragic results for many New Yorkers.”

The Times article inspired more ire in the form of a petition signed by a number of gay Jewish journalists and colleagues, including Lawrence Mass, co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC); journalist Donna Minkowitz; activist Allen Roskoff; publisher Mark Segal; and historian Sarah Schulman.

All objected to the wistfully sympathetic tone of the article which relied on accounts by Koch’s friend, the journalist Charles Kaiser, of Ukrainian Jewish origin, implying that the Times’ belated reportage about Koch’s sexuality was any revelation.

In fact, the subject was all-too familiar to alert observers of the political scene since the 1970s. As the petitioners note, Koch “made a repugnant political decision to avoid creating new public benefits and new costs for the city budget. He wanted to avoid being associated with an infectious disease that was killing gay men and IV drug users.”

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The article was supposedly published in response to an ongoing attempt to remove Koch’s name from the Queensboro Bridge, officially renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2011. It may also be worth inquiring whether a Jewish politician, whether straight, gay or asexual, might reasonably be expected to empathize with suffering humans, especially those in persecuted minority groups.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his 1963 speech on Religion and Race, delivered in Chicago, reminded listeners that the “prophets’ great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. The prophet is a person who suffers the harms done to others.”

This attitude conformed with the command in Leviticus 19:34 to “love the stranger as yourself.” Amid repeated exhortations to protect the socially vulnerable in the Torah, strangers are referred to dozens of times, since those unlike us were also created in God’s image, as the Book of Genesis tells us.

And The Babylonian Talmud, (Nedarim 40A) states that Rabbi Akiva’s compassion toward the sick was such that he stated: “Anyone who does not visit the sick, it is as if he has spilled blood.”

So even had Koch not been gay, Jewish tradition would argue that compassion was required of him. Yet on the contrary, his response for several years after the AIDS crisis was brought to his attention was obliviousness and inaction.

In 1981, New York’s gay community called on Koch to do something about AIDS, but only 21 months later the GMHC was granted an inconclusive meeting with the mayor, who waited until 1988 to take any real action against the pandemic which by then had already killed several thousand New Yorkers.

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The filmmaker David France claimed in 2013 that Koch’s greatest failure was that he “seemed to lack even the faintest stirrings of empathy when the AIDS crisis came. As has been chronicled repeatedly, Koch stood silent through years of headlines, obituaries, and deaths.

It is as though Koch, France went on to say, “couldn’t empathize with the dying or the rest of us who stood helplessly at their bedsides.”

Koch, who had started his career in politics as a progressive, sponsoring gay rights legislation, turned into a different kind of politician when he aspired to occupy Gracie Mansion. On the campaign trail, he denounced New Yorkers who exploited social welfare programs, calling them “poverty pimps,” an insult seen as having racial connotations.

His confrontational, pugilistic rapport with constituents soon created problems with African-American, as Bryant Rollins, editor of The Amsterdam News, declared in 1979: “Koch has operated with arrogance and disdain toward the Black community in New York City. He doesn’t take criticism well.”

To which Koch characteristically replied, “If you hit me, I hit back.” His espousal of bellicosity as a response to protest inspired him to write a 2012 editorial approving Vladimir Putin’s suppression of dissenters who had staged a rally in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Koch deemed the protest “religious hatred” and likened it to a 1989 demonstration at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral by the AIDS activist group ACT UP again the Catholic Church’s banning condom use and sex education as pandemic prevention measures.

Koch did not suddenly become a Putin supporter; he gradually transformed into someone capable of approving a murderous dictator. As the civil rights advocate Richard Socarides noted in 2013, Koch’s long-disputed sexuality was a smoke screen for more fundamental leadership problems on life and death matters. Socarides concluded that had Koch possessed the “courage to overcome the era in which he lived and its prejudices, he could have done enormous good in this [sociopolitical] arena, even later in his life, when there were no more elections to win.”

That never happened, reportedly because he refused to give his longtime adversary Larry Kramer the satisfaction of admitting that he had been lying for all those years about his sexual identity.

Instead, Hoch privately ogled gay art films like “Come Undone” (2000), directed by Sébastien Lifshitz and starring Jérémie Elkaïm, of Moroccan Jewish origin, likened to “soft-core pornography” by Koch’s friend the Jewish journalist Maer Roshan.

While Koch indulged himself, gay Jewish politicians able to win elections in America remained few, lacking role models after the retirement of Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts in 2013.

In 2020, Alex Morse, now town manager of Provincetown, lost the primary for Massachusetts’s 1st Congressional District to the incumbent. And the septuagenarian Barry Wendell will be Democratic candidate for Congress this autumn in West Virginia. Wendell told the JTA in February that “as a Jew, of course I believe in miracles that happen every day. But it probably would take a miracle” to defeat the Republican candidate.

Wendell claims that his spouse, Rabbi Joe Hample of Congregation Tree of Life, a Reform synagogue in Morgantown, encouraged him to compete. As Hample explained: “Isn’t it a Jewish value to stand up and be counted? At the beginning the Book of Numbers, we stand up and we are counted. I think that’s huge.”

Ed Koch’s refusal to acknowledge the sufferings of others at a time of crisis may be, as David France and other critics suggest, the “single most significant aspect of his public life,” but it is surely the most un-Jewish aspect of his career.

 

 

 

 

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