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Antisemitism fears caused 4 in 10 American Jews to change their behavior last year: Survey

7 hours 57 min ago

(JTA) — Fear of antisemitism spurred 40% of American Jews to change their behavior over the past year, according to a new survey about antisemitism in America.

The survey, released Monday, is the latest in an annual series commissioned by the American Jewish Committee to understand how Jewish Americans and the general public experience and perceive antisemitism.

A survey of American Jews found that over the last year, 17% said they “avoided certain places, events, or situations,” 22% avoided making themselves visually identifiable as a Jew and 25% refrained from posting Jewish-related content online.

A companion survey of the general public, meanwhile, found that the proportion of Americans who say they understand what antisemitism is rose sharply in the last year, from 53% in 2020 to 65% this year.

Last year’s survey was taken shortly before the presidential election in which Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump, whom many Jews perceived as stoking antisemitism. At the time, just 4% of American Jews said they felt more secure than they had in the past; this year that proportion was significantly higher, at 10%.

“Almost 40% of Jews have changed their behavior. This is horrible and heartbreaking data,” Holly Huffnagle, the AJC’s U.S. director for combating antisemitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about this year’s findings.

“But I think we can’t hide the fact that more Jews feel secure today,” she added, noting that when the surveyors asked for an explanation, “The change in the administration was by far the biggest response to that.”

This year’s surveys were taken in September and early October and included 1,214 Americans overall and 1,433 Jews. The margin of error for each survey was 3.9%. In a shift, the majority of the surveys were completed online, rather than by phone, although Huffnagle said researchers had concluded that the change had not influenced results in any particular way.

Some of the results, including the finding about the proportion of American Jews who changed their behavior out of fear, cannot be directly compared to the AJC’s past antisemitism surveys because this year’s version asked about experiences only in the last year. Previous surveys asked about experiences and perceptions in the past two or five years.

“We decided to lose the trend data in favor of accurate information,” Huffnagle said.

Other findings are comparable over time, and suggest that much has remained unchanged in American Jewish sentiment. The vast majority of American Jews continue to say that antisemitism is a problem in the United States; antisemitism on college campuses remains a concern for many American Jews; and American Jews continue to say they are more concerned about antisemitism emanating from the extreme right than the extreme left.

Half of American Jews say they “extreme political right” poses a “very serious” antisemitic threat, and 91% said they believed the far right poses at least some threat, similar to last year’s finding. In a shift, however, the proportion of American Jews who said they thought “the extreme political left” represents at least a slight antisemitic threat increased sharply, from 61% last year to 71% this year.

Huffnagle said she attributed the increase in the general public’s awareness of antisemitism to multiple high-profile incidents related to right-wing activity, including penetration of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which has antisemitic overtones, and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where one participant was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.

She also said a broader discourse around combatting discrimination and hate, spurred in part by a response to attacks on Asian Americans, may have played a role.

“I think there might have been this national wakeup call,” Huffnagle said, adding, “at least about how to answer survey questions.”

Three quarters of Jews said they had heard “a lot” or “some” about Jews being attacked in the United States and abroad during Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza in May. Three quarters of those respondents — representing a majority of Jews — said those reports had made them feel less safe as Jews in the United States.

Huffnagle said there was little evidence that the incidents of antisemitism reported at the time had contributed to the shift in sentiment within the general public.

Still, she said, the general public remains notably supportive of Israel — perhaps more so than American Jews. She pointed to the fact that the proportion of general-public respondents who said they viewed the statement “Israel has no right to exist” as antisemitic was higher this year: 85% of respondents said the statement is antisemitic, compared to 77% last year.

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When you’re a Mexican Jew, Halloween and Day of the Dead are complicated

9 hours 56 min ago

This article originally appeared on Alma.

Growing up with one foot in Mexico and one foot in the United States, I am no stranger to the idea of straddling two cultures. In religious studies, we call this idea liminality. Vampires, centaurs and even Jesus Christ (as both divine and human) are all liminal beings. To be liminal is to be half and half — not quite one, not quite the other.

Though born in Mexico, I grew up in the Northeastern United States with my mother. The changing of the seasons from summer to fall was marked by a kaleidoscope of changing leaves, the smell of apple cider and hayrides through rows of corn. I loved the crisp smell of the air as fall rolled in — it was my favorite time of year.

In Mexico, when the end of October rolled around and the sugar skulls and rainbow tissue-paper banners began to proliferate, I remember asking my father why we did not provide offerings to ancestors or feast in the cemetery the way other members of our Yucatan community did. My father replied that it was because though we were Mexican, we were Jewish first — and while we could participate in some cultural aspects of the festival (like enjoying a delicious pan de muertos), Jews saw this festival as idolatrous, and therefore off-limits.

None of this, however, stopped Halloween from always being my favorite holiday. I did not get Día de los Muertos — but nobody was better at U.S. Halloween than me. My costumes were elaborate and specific. I threw parties starting from the age of 10, with crafts such as painting pumpkins with glitter and turning Oreos into spooky spiders. When I grew too old for trick-or-treating, I donned my floor-length bat mitzvah dress and told the little girls at the door I was a princess while doling out candy bars (full-sized, of course).

But my Mexican half yearned to be a part of a tradition that was closed off to me. It was not until attending Harvard Divinity School, where I am currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies, that the tension between my competing identities came to a head. During a class, one student called on us to connect with the ancestors before our next meeting. Having never really engaged in such a practice, I first consulted my rabbi for his take on how best to connect with the ancestors. He provided several helpful examples of how people do this within the Jewish tradition, including the ritual commemoration of those who have passed at wedding ceremonies and the traditional way of celebrating the harvest holiday of Sukkot.

I found myself obsessed with questions for the following days. How could I simultaneously use this day — when the veil between the living and dead is at its most thin, when my Mexican ancestors might be ready to connect with me — when I was also Jewish, and this was a day that was historically prohibited?

But even more pressing for me, not intellectually but spiritually, was the question: What wisdom do the ancestors have for me that I have been unable to access? What secrets are they holding in their hands, waiting to whisper in my ear, if only I could ground myself enough to connect with them?

I think that the beauty of being a modern Jew whose primary identity is pulled from culture and ethnicity rather than religious practices is that I have permission to disregard the aspects of this celebration that are, at its core, anti-Jewish, like idolatry. Perhaps this holiday was unavailable to my father — but why should it be unavailable to me?

Although it’s true that the Day of the Dead originates in pre-colonial Indigenous rituals and continues on in Catholic Mexico, the true magic of being a 21st century Mexican Jew in the U.S. is that we get to pick and choose. We are not bound by the same dogma and stigma of our ancestors — in fact, I am learning that by shedding these ideological shackles, I can embrace both sides of my ancestry with abandon. Lighting candles on Día de los Muertos is no different than observing a yahrtzeit — not to me. If anything, one tradition is enriched by being tied to the other.

I recently came upon this excerpt from American Catholic monk Thomas Merton’s journals in 1958, and it felt apropos:

My vocation is American — to see and to understand and to have in myself the life and the roots and the belief and the destiny and the orientation of the whole hemisphere — as an expression of something of God… to be able — possibly — to reach out and embrace all the extremes and have them in oneself without confusion… without being torn apart. No one fragment can begin to be enough—not Spanish colonial Catholicism, not 19th-century republicanism, not agrarian radicalism, not the Indianism of Mexico — but all of it, everything. To be oneself a whole hemisphere…

It is my ardent hope that this year my Día de Los Muertos alter can tie together my fragments, without confusion, without being torn apart, so that I may be, myself, a whole hemisphere.

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Israeli noshery Sherry Herring opens in NYC — with ‘no Sherry and no herring’

Mon, 2021-10-25 22:06

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Imagine arriving at the Pastrami Queen but finding no pastrami, or showing up at Holy Schnitzel to find its signature breaded chicken cutlet off the menu.

To quote Tevye, sounds crazy, no? But that is exactly what will happen if you visit Sherry Herring, the Israeli eatery that recently opened on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It is the first branch of the renowned sandwich bar in the port of Tel Aviv famous for — you guessed it — its herring sandwiches.

But for the moment, to quote Sherry Ansky, the driving force behind Sherry Herring, the New York outpost has “no Sherry and no herring.”

That’s because Ansky is still waiting for her travel documents to enter the United States —  and the herring is still aging at a Dutch processor, patiently soaking up the brine and flavors that must meet Ansky’s approval.

This story is part of JTA's coverage of New York through the New York Jewish Week. To read more stories like this, sign up for our daily New York newsletter here.

Ansky is a food celebrity in Israel, where she has written six cookbooks (one of which was translated into English). For decades she was a food columnist for the daily newspaper Maariv. But in 2011 she hit a writer’s block. It was at that time that her daughter, Michal Ansky, herself a food journalist, opened the farmer’s market in the port of Tel Aviv, which soon became a draw for tourists, foodies and hipsters. Sherry Ansky decided to create a sandwich shop there that featured herring. 

Ansky has had a long-standing love affair with herring, the brined or pickled fish that is a staple of Ashkenazi cuisine. When she was 6 years old, she went to synagogue with her father.

“Somebody made a kiddush and brought me a plate filled with lekach [honey cake], kugel and lots of herring,” she told The Jewish Week. “I ate one piece, then another, until I finished it all. I believe that there is a moment when you understand the power of candy. For me, it happened with herring.”

Ansky’s shop, featuring herring and other fish sandwiches, was an immediate success. Shortly after she opened the sandwich bar, she entered the farmers’ market to find a line snaking through it and out the door.

“I fainted and ran away,” she remembers. “I told the people to go away! I can’t do it.”

Even those who aren’t normally fans of herring may find it hard not be taken by Ansky’s herring sandwich. It is a carefully constructed work consisting of a fresh baguette, sliced in half and slathered with sour cream and French butter, seasoned with hot pepper, seeds and juice from a tomato, onions and scallions, and finished off with brined herring.

Food celebrity Phil Rosenthal visited the Tel Aviv port for his Netflix show “Somebody Feed Phil” and declared Ansky’s herring sandwich was “one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had in my stupid life.”

“The taste is precise,” said Ansky. “At the end of the day, I feel like I worked on this sandwich all of my life, until the moment I needed it.”

During the pandemic, Ansky sent her son-in-law and business partner, Eyal Amir, to New York to scout out a location for the first of what they hope will be several Sherry Herring shops. They chose the Upper West Side, said Amir, “because it is a Jewish neighborhood where our penetration to the market will be easiest.” Their eatery, said Amir, builds on the culture of appetizing stores in New York, including Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side and Barney Greengrass less than a mile away.

The anchovy sandwich is among the options at Sherry Herring, which now has a branch on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. (Courtesy)

Like the Tel Aviv sandwich bar, the Manhattan shop offers a choice of smoked fish sandwiches: tuna from a smokehouse in the Hamptons, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, mackerel from, according to Amir, the “wild waters off of Spain.”  

So why no herring? Because there is herring and then there is Sherry’s herring. During his scouting ventures, Amir brought back samples of all of the herrings he could source in the five boroughs of New York City. None met the approval of Ansky’s discerning palate. So she flew off to Holland and worked with a fishery there to select the best herring — creamy with a soft bite — and to create the brine that would give her the flavor she was after.  

“We kept on experimenting until we reached the right flavor in July,” said Amir. Then they had to submit the recipe and process to the FDA for approval. They started production last month. But the herring, said Amir, “needs 11 weeks in our unique brine to arrive at the flavor, colors and aroma that we want.”

So the herring will come, in a first shipment of 15,000 filets, in December. Will that be enough? That, said Amir, “depends on how much New Yorkers like it.”

Sherry Herring is located at 245 W. 72nd St., between West End Avenue and Broadway.

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Billiards legend JoAnn Mason Parker made a Jewish Sports Hall of Fame — now she’s plotting a competitive comeback

Mon, 2021-10-25 20:47

(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — For JoAnn Mason Parker, playing pool comes just as naturally as handling a knife and fork.

“You’re not going to drop it, because you know what you’re doing,” the former child prodigy said, explaining the analogy during a recent video chat from Westchester, New York. Her mini Labradoodle, Rivkah, sat nearby. “It’s not hard.”

The former U.S. Open 9-Ball champion describes her style as “aggressive” — both defensively and offensively. (In pool, offense is when you pocket balls, and defense is when you position the cue ball in such a way as to disadvantage your opponent.) Her motto, she said, is to “make the game easy for me. And hard for you.”

On Oct. 24, Parker became the first billiards player inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California, a nonprofit organization recognizing excellence in sport that also hands out scholarships each year to deserving student-athletes.

“When I saw what they stand for, I felt like I wanted to be a part of it,” Parker said.

Today, 26 years after retiring from the pro circuit, Parker, 53, is eyeing a comeback. She’s been playing in (and winning) amateur tournaments in New York, working out and envisioning a return to competition at the highest level.

“I’ve got the itch,” she said.

A natural athlete (Parker ran track and played volleyball, softball and, later in life, golf), she gravitated toward billiards at a very early age. She emulated and learned from her father, Harvey Mason, a pro player and coach who trained the likes of Tony Robles (“The Silent Assassin”) and Sammy Guzman.

“When I was 4 years old I always copied whatever my dad was doing,” she said. “I was a daddy’s girl right from the start.”

While watching him play, she would get some early coaching. Harvey would often tell her, “Don’t watch the balls, JoAnn, watch me,” Parker said. “Look at the machine. Then you’ll know how to do this one day.”

And she had obvious natural gifts. At the age of 5, she said, she ran her first rack of balls (meaning, pocketed each one without missing).

It was on a bar-size table at a pool hall in Amsterdam, New York. Parker’s parents, both from the Bronxin those days ventured upstate for fishing, horse racing and billiards each summer with the family. She and her older sister, Nancy, were given quarters to keep them occupied.

She could barely reach the table, so she shot sidearm.

When the girls kept returning to their parents for more quarters, their father asked what was going on: “JoAnn just keeps making all the balls in the hole!” Nancy said to his astonishment.

JoAnn Mason Parker at a 1992 exhibition in New York City, with her husband, Robert Parker, clapping with Mayor Ed Koch and other members of the Friars Club. (Courtesy of J. The Jewish News of Northern California)

Parker, who went on to become known as the “Battling Beauty” in professional billiards, earned her reputation as a prodigy around the time she sank all those balls in Amsterdam. She started playing on the amateur circuit as a kid and won her first major tournament, the “Big Apple” Amateur 8-Ball title, at 13.

While still a teenager, Parker went pro, joining the Women’s Professional Billiards Tour after high school. She won the McDermott Masters in 1988; and two years later, in 1990, the U.S. Open, the most competitive event in the country, beating the No. 1 ranked player in the world. She was the New York State billiards champion for six years running.

And all that was only her first career. Lesser known was her second calling: For 12 years, Parker taught pre-kindergarten at Katz Hillel Day School in Boca Raton, Florida, which her son William attended. The motto of the Modern Orthodox school: “Where excellence in Torah and general studies is our passion.”

Parker went from the “Battling Beauty” to “Morah JoAnn,” Hebrew for teacher.

“My billiards background, and my competitiveness, made me a way better teacher,” Parker said. “Way better.”

Raised in a secular Jewish family, Parker moved to Monticello, New York, when she was 13. Today she speaks with a distinct New York accent that brings to mind baked ziti as much as it does bagels and lox.

Parker’s maternal grandparents emigrated from Lithuania and Austria, and her paternal grandparents were from the Bronx. Her grandmother Gertrude worked in a Jewish bakery called Sherblooms.

Parker is proudly “99.9 percent Ashkenazi,” she said, citing a recent DNA test. She peppers her speech with Yiddish phrases like “Yiddishe kop,” or a Jewish way of thinking or behaving.

Her husband, Robert Parker, comes from the hotelier Parker family that owned the Concord Resort Hotel, the renowned Borscht Belt resort in the Catskills, until its closure amid considerable controversy in 1998.

At age 14, Parker competed in a tournament called the World Straight Pool Championship, held in 1981 at the swanky Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, where she was going to face the top amateur player in the world, Swedish-born Ewa Mataya, who was four years older. The event was a rude awakening, of sorts.

“I’m walking in there — I look like an angel. I’m in a very pretty ivory-colored dress,” Parker said. But “there is a world of difference” between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, she said. “I’m a girl, and she’s a woman.”

“I was going into the lion’s den,” Parker added with a laugh. “Lamb to the slaughter.”

She held her own, but lost the match.

Today Parker’s self-confidence could be described as total, and her competitiveness — notwithstanding billiards’ reputation as a cerebral pursuit — as reminiscent of a heavyweight boxer.

“I want to wear them down,” she says of her opponents. “I keep them on the long rail, which is a very difficult place to be. I keep making them bridge over balls. Keep making them kick backwards at balls. Make it hard.”

Then, “when you’re exhausted and worn out, I’m going for the kill,” she added. “With a smile!” 

Unlike athletes in big-market sports, professional pool players, even some of the best, need gumption and some creativity to make a living. They piece together income from tournament winnings, endorsements, teaching fees and other compensation from appearances at trick shows and corporate events.

After high school, Parker skipped college in favor of what she called the “school of pool” (she would return later for a degree in early childhood education). To support herself she worked part time at a local Italian restaurant.

With her gregarious personality, she was known for charming her customers. She got her first big break from a Greek customer named Archie Papacaralumbus. He owned a small business in town — 3-D Block Co., which manufactured cement blocks — and saw promise in Parker. He offered to be her first pro sponsor.

“He was the nicest guy, he and his wife,” Parker said. “They were not born in America. And someone had given him a big break when he came to this country. So he wanted to give me a break.”

In a short professional career, she notched wins not only at the McDermott Masters and the U.S. Open in 9-Ball, but at a half-dozen New York state championships and many other tournaments from New England to China. She retired at 27 after giving birth to her son William, then returned briefly in 2010, competing in a 9-Ball tournament called the Tiger 9-Ball. And won.

Of being a Jew on the pro billiards circuit, Parker pointed to some of the heroes of the American game, role models such as Mike Sigel and Barry Behrman.

Still, there were times, particularly in the American South, when she felt uneasy hearing the chatter in the room, as likely the only Jew there. She almost always wore her chai necklace while competing.

“The minute you would hear comments about Black people, you know you’re on the radar to be next,” she said. “If that’s how these people are talking, you just know it.”

The most pivotal moment of her career came at the 1990 U.S. Open 9-Ball tournament in Norfolk, Virginia. She wore her chai necklace then, too. The most prestigious professional tournament in the country had 42 entrants that year, the largest field in its history.

In her first five competitions Parker tore through the field, winning each match. But in the final she was considered a serious underdog as she faced the No. 1–ranked player in the world.

At close to 6 feet, her competitor towered over Parker, who is 5-foot-4. And she was sponsored by Brunswick, the biggest name in pool.

It was Ewa Mataya, nine years after their first meeting.

In videos of the match, Parker’s face is relaxed, one of complete focus.

She opened the first game with a powerful break, sending a ball into the corner pocket. She took her time before her second shot, stalking the table, strategizing.

Parker didn’t have a clear shot, so she played defense. She kissed the cue ball just barely, nudging it into a position that would make it nearly impossible for Mataya to make her first shot. It worked — and then Parker went on offense. She ran the table, pocketing each ball in the correct order, winning the crucial first game of the match. She would go on to win, 11 games to 8.

Afterward when an interviewer asked her how she felt, she got choked up. “I’ve waited for this moment for a very long time. It’s been my dream to win this tournament,” she said.

More than 30 years later, after raising a son (who is now 27) and a 12-year detour in Jewish education, Parker is looking back to billiards.

She’s been training and recording demonstration videos, some of which can be viewed here. Though she cared little about fitness when on tour in her 20s (“we’d be going to Denny’s, eating all kinds of garbage”), since the summer she’s been rousing around 5:30 for early morning cardio — she sprints up a steep hill, then walks down, getting into the mindset to compete again.

“Nobody’s doing what I’m doing. I’m not afraid to feel that pain running up that hill,” she said. “I look at my opponents and I say to myself: They don’t have a right to beat me.”

In her 50s, she’s a different player. But pool isn’t like other sports. She believes she can still be as good as she was 30 years ago and can win another U.S. Open or similar tournament.

“You cannot possibly expect to be a better shot maker than you were when you were 23. Maybe you could be as good,” she said. “But you can definitely be smarter. And you can play the game with intellect. To make the game easy for me. And hard for you.”

This story was originally published in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.

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Jill Biden pays tribute to Jonathan Sacks at yeshiva fundraiser in Detroit

Mon, 2021-10-25 19:36

(JTA) — First Lady Jill Biden gave the keynote speech Sunday at the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah annual fundraiser dinner in Detroit, a gala that consistently features American presidents, other prominent politicians and thousands of local Jews.

In her speech, Biden paid tribute to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain and public intellectual who died a year ago.

“He once wrote, ‘God does not ask us to save the world — entirely and alone. Instead God asks us to do what we can, when we can. We mend the world one life at a time, one act at a time, one day at a time,'” Biden said, according to Jewish Insider.

.@FLOTUS Jill Biden addresses Yeshiva Beth Yehudah dinner in Detroit 10/24/2021 pic.twitter.com/cYq2GnQ9ZK

— "When Rabbis Bless Congress" (@CongressRabbi) October 25, 2021

 

The dinner’s past in-person guests, who are sometimes surprise announcements, have included leaders from both parties, such as President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential nominee John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Last year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and just weeks before the election, both President Donald Trump and then-nominee Joe Biden sent in video messages to the virtual event. Biden also attended the fundraiser in 2011, when he was Vice President.

The Biden White House said the first lady was invited to speak by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. This year’s fundraiser also honored General Motors CEO Mary Barra.

Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, located in Oak Park, is Michigan’s oldest and largest Jewish school, founded in 1914 and currently enrolling around 1,000 students. It has seen heavy growth, building three major additions to its campus over the last decade.

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Richard Wexler, a leader and then a trenchant critic of the organized Jewish community, dies at 80

Mon, 2021-10-25 19:07

(JTA) — Richard Wexler, who led the effort to combine U.S. Jewish fundraising bodies into a single behemoth and then become one of the resulting group’s most trenchant critics, has died at 80.

Wexler died Oct. 19 after a battle with cancer, his family said in a funeral notice in the Chicago Tribune. He sought to make fundraising more efficient by bringing together under one umbrella the main Jewish philanthropic bodies.

A real estate lawyer, Wexler became the chairman, or lay leader, of the United Jewish Appeal, the lead fundraising entity for overseas Jewish philanthropy, in 1996. The Chicago native had come up through the Jewish lay leadership ranks through Soviet Jewry activism.

Lauded at the time as a “dynamo” who led key efforts in the early 1990s to absorb into Israel former Jews, he envisioned closer ties with Jewish federations, then grouped under the Council of Jewish Federations umbrella.

Wexler also had a leadership role in the council, and he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1996, anticipating a merger, “The only way we’re going to raise more money is in partnership with federation.”

That came about in 1999 on Wexler’s watch as UJA chairman, when three bodies — the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal — combined into a single body, the United Jewish Communities. UJC in 2009 became the Jewish Federations of North America.

Things soon went sour. Wexler unsuccessfully sought UJC leadership roles, and simultaneously argued that the new body was not leveraging the union of its component bodies to raise more funds. In 2003, he published a book, “United Jewish Catastrophes … A Love Story.” He accused UJC leaders of pursuing “pet projects” at the expense of the greater good of the overall enterprise.

Depending on who was telling the story, Wexler resigned or was forced out of his leadership positions in the UJC in 2008. Wexler’s candid and lacerating blog, UJ Thee and Me, proved too much for the lay and professional UJC leadership to tolerate. It was an unusually acrimonious departure with on-the-record mutual accusations.

Wexler remained in leadership positions at the Chicago federation, the Jewish United Fund, through 2012. He had an engaging writing style, with a knack for pulling off acidic and cheerful simultaneously. He was blogging until the end, shooting arrows left and right. In an August post, he likened Jewish organizations to Spirit Airlines, the budget carrier notorious for hapless management and painful journeys.

As acidic as he could be, he singled out those who sought to unify the Jews for loving praise. Remembering Richard Hirsch, the longtime Reform Judaism leader who died in August, Wexler eulogized: “Hirsch’s enthusiasm moved all of us forward …Richard’s enthusiasm for this work was part and parcel of his vision of modern Zionism — an inclusive, embracing Zionism.”

In their remembrance of Wexler, his family struck a similar note: “His commitment to the Jewish people was driven by his belief that the world can be repaired through hard work and force of will.”

“If you don’t have enemies you haven’t stood for anything,” attributed to Winston Churchill, was one of his favorite sayings, his daughter, Deborah Sobokin, said at his funeral. “For any of you who kept up with my dad’s blog, UJ Thee and Me, you know he stood for many things.”

He is survived by his wife, Roberta, two sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren.

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Chilean newspaper draws outrage with tribute to Nazi leader Hermann Göring

Mon, 2021-10-25 17:58

(JTA) — One of the largest newspapers in Chile published a tribute feature to Nazi Hermann Göring on Sunday, sparking an outcry from politicians and the Chilean Jewish community.

The article, which was timed to the 75th anniversary of Göring’s death and resembled a eulogy, included details about the Nazi leader’s youth, military career and close relationship to Adolf Hitler, accompanied by various photos.

In a statement posted to Twitter, the Jewish Community of Chile organization called the article “an apology for Nazism.”

“In Europe, this publication would be considered a crime,” the organization said, referring to countries that outlaw Nazi sympathizing.

Germany’s embassy in Santiago said “It is not customary for the Embassy to comment” on newspaper articles, but added “We just want to make it very clear: This character, H. Goering, committed crimes against humanity and was one of the pillars of the Nazi regime.”

Göring was one of Hitler’s highest-ranking officers, and helped create the Gestapo secret police force. During Hitler’s Four-Year Plan in 1936, he was given broad economic powers, including the authority to confiscate Jewish property. He benefited personally from looted art, and during the Holocaust had possession of Matisse’s “Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar.”

At the Nuremberg trials in 1946, Göring was found guilty of conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to death by hanging but committed suicide hours before it was carried out by ingesting cyanide.

El Mercurio, which has a conservative political slant, is known as Chile’s newspaper of record.

Multiple politicians running in Chile’s presidential elections also criticized the article.

“There isn’t even a speck of room for criminals against humanity,” wrote Sebastián Sichel, an independent running as part of the conservative Chile Podemos coalition. “My solidarity with the Jewish community and to anyone else who may have felt offended by the publication.”

Yasna Provoste, head of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, expressed “deep solidarity with the Jewish Community of Chile.”

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Swedish education agency recommends exercise that has students argue the Holocaust never happened

Mon, 2021-10-25 16:18

(JTA) — Sweden’s National Agency for Education recommended that teachers should make students try to prove that the Holocaust never happened, as part of a push to help them understand conspiracy theories.

The recommendation came in a recently published handbook for high school teachers that the government’s institution in charge of scholastic issues had created, the Aftonbladet daily reported earlier this month.

“Group 1 must find at least three arguments for the case that the Holocaust never happened, using facts and information from the internet. They can also ask others what they believe and why,” the suggested exercise read.

It included a similar example encouraging students to support the argument that the 1969 moon landing was staged. The handbook defined both the moon landing and the Holocaust as “controversial subjects.”

Sweden’s Jewish Central Council and other critics said asking students to consume and engage in Holocaust denial is offensive to victims and has questionable pedagogical value.

“Even if it is well-intentioned, there is a danger in calling the Holocaust controversial,” Aron Verständig, chairman of Sweden’s Jewish Central Council, told Aftonbladet. He called the exercise “bizarre.”

Svante Weyler, chairman of the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism watchdog group, called the exercise “pure idiocy.” Of all the subjects available for such an exercise, “the Holocaust is the worst. It is a grotesque idea that this can take place in Swedish classrooms,” he told the paper.

The report did not say whether the exercise had been implemented in classrooms yet.

Pernilla Sundström, a spokesperson for the education agency, defended the exercise, which she told Aftonbladet is meant to help teachers deal with “themes that can create tension in the classroom.” The Holocaust, she added, “can be such a theme precisely because of antisemitism.”

Björn Söder, a member of the Sweden Democrats party, a populist right-wing movement, queried Education Minister Anna Ekström on the subject, asking her to explain how the exercise fits into the government’s policy of opposing antisemitism. Ekström is scheduled to reply on Oct. 27.

The debate has some parallels with a controversy that has been unfolding in Texas, following the passing of a bill that is meant to ban discussion of Critical Race Theory — which is meant to educate students on systemic racism in the U.S. — in the state’s classrooms.

Earlier this month, a school administrator in Southlake’s Carroll Independent School District was caught in a recording saying that under the new law, teachers need to “make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said the administrator’s statement was a “misinterpretation” of the law.

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Meet the Jewish woman steering one of America’s largest and most influential liberal donor groups

Mon, 2021-10-25 15:58

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Politico called the Democracy Alliance, one of the country’s major liberal donor groups, “secretive.” The conservative Washington Free Beacon called it “George Soros’s shadowy dark money donor club.”

But the group’s new president, Pamela Shifman, says she’s all about shining a light — on what she calls threats to democracy, right-wing antisemitism and other issues.

The Democracy Alliance raises money that it funnels to organizations the group says works to “advance a progressive agenda.” Unlike some other liberal fundraising groups such as MoveOn that cite large numbers of donors, the Democracy Alliance focuses on major giving only: Donors must commit to giving at least $200,000 per year to enter. The group boasts Tom Steyer, Susie Tompkins Buell and, yes, left-wing megadonor George Soros among its members — but most of its donors are anonymous.

Shifman, who comes from a family of liberal Jewish activists, said she is not happy with the role of anonymous or “dark” money in political giving. But she is also not ready to give it up yet.

“As progressives, we support greater transparency and an end to Citizens United [the 2010 Supreme Court decision that protected corporate political giving], but we can’t unilaterally disarm ourselves in this fight,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Because the moment is too important to do so. And what we know is activists need resources, movements need resources, and they need resources now to address the challenges we face.”

Shifman, 51, is not prone to keeping a low profile. In her previous work, heading NoVo, a foundation funding racial and gender justice initiatives, she was a frequent speaker, and took to the streets in protest, at times with Jewish groups. In 2014, after a New York policeman choked Eric Garner to death, Shifman joined protests organized by Jews For Racial and Economic Justice.

Melding Jewish expression with social justice was embedded in her upbringing in suburban Detroit, Shifman said, where she grew up in a Conservative Jewish home.

“So much of our trace values were around tikkun olam,” she said, referring to the Mishnaic mandate to repair the world that has become a byword for social justice among liberal Jews. ”My parents have been just unbelievably generous in the way they live their life. What that is about is helping strangers, it’s about helping anyone who they could help whether financially or not financially — we always had people staying in our home, who needed a place to stay, who were going through a difficult time. My friends all knew our house was a place they could come if they needed respite and comfort.”

Shifman fondly recalls markers of Jewish involvement in the community, including membership in B’nai B’rith Girls (now wrapped into the BBYO youth organization) and playing basketball and softball in the 1986 North American Maccabi Youth Games in Toronto. (Shifman is still into fitness, training with her partner for a half-marathon.)

Her family were members of Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park, Michigan, but Shifman says her deepest feelings of Jewish identification come from the activism of her father, Arnold, a lawyer, and her mother, Elaine, a retired public school teacher. 

“My mom stands outside in suburban Detroit every Monday evening, with a group of older people with a sign that says ‘Black Lives Matter,’” she said. “It’s a group of mostly white, mostly Jewish people who stand out on Woodward Avenue in the suburbs, to send a message to other suburban folks, that they stand for racial justice.”

Shifman got emotional as she recalled her father’s funeral last year, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“He had nearly a thousand people at the funeral,” she said. “People shared with us, came up to us and said, ‘You may not know this, but your father helped my son for free. I didn’t have any money.’ There were just hundreds of stories of people I’d never met before. I feel his memory is with me so much in all of the work that I do.”

Shifman says she detects an antisemitic undercurrent in some of the attacks on the Democracy Alliance, such as the Free Beacon’s characterization of the group as Soros’ “shadowy dark money.” Soros has been targeted in attacks from the right that Jewish groups say have often crossed into antisemitism — among them accusations that he is the unseen hand behind movements conservatives revile. Some have even called him a “puppet master,” bringing to mind stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Jewish world domination.

“The right has weaponized antisemitism to undermine progressive work,” Shifman said. “The attacks on George Soros are antisemitic, there is no doubt in my mind about that. Those of us who are on the side of justice need to treat this moment as urgent and an all-hands-on-deck moment.”

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Larry David gives Jon Hamm a Yiddish lesson in very Jewish start to new season of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Mon, 2021-10-25 13:37

Spoiler alert: This article contains plot details from Episode 1 of Season 11 of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

(JTA) — Matzo balls, shiva calls and a Yiddish lesson all played a role in the first episode of the 11th season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which premiered on HBO Sunday night.

The episode offered a case study in why “Curb” has been called “the most Jewish comedy show ever” and suggests that Larry David, its writer, producer and star, has no intention of ceding that mantle.

The episode’s dual storylines each had Jewish elements: In one, David auditions actresses for his new show, using a scene that involves eating a matzah ball at a Passover seder. For his own reasons, he chooses a contender who mispronounces “seder” like “cedar” and “bubbie” as “boobay.”

The other main storyline is about a memorial service that David’s friend Albert Brooks, the famous Jewish actor whose given name is Albert Einstein, throws for himself while he is still alive.

The actor Jon Hamm arrives wearing a torn black ribbon, customarily worn by Jewish mourners to approximate the tradition of rending one’s clothing upon learning of the death of a close family member. David asks why.

“You know, the shiva … the rending of the clothes,” says Hamm, who is not Jewish, using the Hebrew word for the seven-day mourning period that begins after burial

“Wow, you’re really going Jewy here, aren’t you?” David said.

Hamm then consults with David on the appropriate use of the Yiddish word “bashert,” meaning “destiny.” Can he say, he asks, “I’m feeling a lot of bashert at the loss of our friend Albert”?

David offers an alternative with the Yiddish word “tsuris,” meaning troubles, even spelling it out for Hamm. Hamm deploys the word during his eulogy, shortly before it takes a dramatic turn after a revelation about how Brooks behaved during the pandemic, which in the show’s world is long over. Filming was delayed on the new season, which came as a surprise to the show’s devoted fans, because of COVID-19.

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Giuliani’s Jewish associate Lev Parnas found guilty • Israeli cabinet minister visits NYC synagogue • Jewish NBA great makes GOAT list

Mon, 2021-10-25 12:02

Good morning, New York. Our colleagues at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency have a new weekly newsletter devoted to Jews and sports. Sign up here

BUILDING BRIDGES: Israel’s Communications Minister, Yoaz Hendel, who is Orthodox, spoke at the Conservative Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan during Friday evening’s services to emphasize the “unity of the Jewish people.” (Jerusalem Post)

ON THE TRAIL: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams met with Jewish supporters of his mayoral bid at a kosher restaurant in Crown Heights Thursday. (Collive)

GUILTY: Lev Parnas, the Jewish Ukrainian-American businessman, Trump supporter and former close associate of Rudy Giuliani, was convicted on six counts by a jury in New York City on Friday for campaign finance violations. (JTA)

HOMETOWN HERO: Twelve-time NBA All-Star Dolph Schayes is the only Jewish player on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, announced Thursday. Born to Romanian-Jewish immigrants, Shayes grew up in the Bronx and led DeWitt Clinton High School to a borough championship and NYU to the NCAA championship game in 1945. (JTA)

LITTLE ODESSA: A gay Russian Jewish teenager comes of age in Brighton Beach in the touching new independent film “Minyan,” set in Brooklyn neighborhood’s large immigrant Jewish community. (JTA)

TURN EVERY PAGE: The New-York Historical Society is offering its first look at the archive of materials from legendary journalist Robert Caro, including highlights of his on-the-ground research for both “The Power Broker” — his monumental biography of NYC master planner Robert Moses — and “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” his multi-volume biography of the president. (Gothamist)

AROUND THE JEWISH WORLD, WITH JTA

REMEMBERING

Trudy Jane Rosen, a photographer of New York City’s feminist, gay and alternative punk scenes in the 1970s and 1980s, died on July 11 at the age of 74, according to an announcement Friday. Known professionally as Trix Rosen, her photographs were seen at exhibitions by the Museum of Modern Art and more recently the museum of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

NEW YORK ARTS

A detail from “GY Gaspard At Solene’s Uncle” by Guy Yanai. (Miles McEnery Gallery)

“The Things of Life,” a solo exhibition by Israeli artist Guy Yanai, will be on view through Nov. 27 at Miles McEnery Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street. Inspired by a film by Claude Sautet, Yanai’s brightly colored simplified forms and figures speak to the emotional toll of the isolation of the pandemic era.

GIVING & GETTING

JCC of Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale and New Rochelle has created a fund to “connect those outside the Jewish faith as well as non-religious Jews with the cultural aspects of our beautiful Jewish heritage,” said Ellen Reinheimer, president of the board of directors. The Karen Kolodny Center for Jewish Culture, Heritage and Diversity, named for JCCMW’s outgoing CEO, has raised more than $600,000 to date from patrons and supporters.

WHAT’S ON TODAY

UJA-Federation invites you to explore “The New Jew,” a new, four-part Israeli documentary series highlighting the varieties Jewish life in the United States. The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan presents two full episodes of “The New Jew,” followed by a panel discussion with Guri Alfi, the star of “The New Jew,” and series creators Asaf Nawi and Moshe Samuels. Hear the many ways that the show is already changing the conversation in Israel about American Judaism. $15. Click here to buy tickets.  7:30 p.m.

Photo, top: Yoaz Hendel, left, Israel’s communications minister, met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday in New York, where the two and Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gil Erdan, discussed incitement and hatred on social media. Later Hendel spoke at Friday night services at Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan. (Spokesperson’s Office/Ministry of Communications)

Photo, middle: A detail from “GY Gaspard At Solene’s Uncle” by Guy Yanai. (Miles McEnery Gallery)

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Sunrise DC apologizes ‘unequivocally’ for singling out Jewish groups but still denounces Zionism

Mon, 2021-10-25 08:36

(JTA) — Days after calling for a rally organizer to remove three Jewish advocacy groups from participating in a rally due to their Zionist beliefs, Sunrise DC, the Washington, D.C. affiliate of the national youth-led organization focusing on fighting climate change, issued an apology.

“In our statement we named three Jewish organizations and criticized their positions on Israel, but did not mention other organizations in the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition with similar positions. We apologize unequivocally for this. We now understand the way our action has fueled antisemitism, which benefits white nationalism and political movements that built power by dividing us, and endangers Jewish people drastically,” the group wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

The group had previously pulled out of a voting rights rally because of the participation of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs — all groups that support Israel, which Sunrise DC called a “colonial project.”

“Given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance and indigenous sovereignty, we oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology,” Sunrise DC said in a statement it posted to Twitter Oct. 20.

The Sunrise Movement, the national organization with which Sunrise DC is affiliated, distanced itself from the local group’s statement Friday, calling its stance “unacceptable and antisemitic.” The national group had previously responded vaguely to the local group’s statement, saying it had not reviewed the local group’s statement before it was published.

“To be clear, Sunrise DC’s statement and actions are not in line with our values,” the Sunrise Movement said in a statement Friday. “Singling out Jewish organizations for removal from a coalition, despite others holding similar views, is antisemitic and unacceptable.”

In the statement posted by the local group Sunday, Sunrise DC reiterated its opposition to Zionism. “We are committed to learning and growing as we continue to stand against Zionism, antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, and all other forms of oppression,” the group wrote.

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Neo-Nazi group hangs ‘Vax the Jews’ banner in Austin, Texas just a few blocks from JCC and synagogues

Mon, 2021-10-25 07:51

(JTA) — Members of a neo-Nazi group hung a banner from a bridge in Austin, Texas Sunday with the message “Vax the Jews.”

The banner was put up by members of the Goyim Defense League, a group the Anti-Defamation League calls “a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism.” The group’s name itself is a parody of the Anti-Defamation League using the Yiddish word “goyim,” which means “non-Jews” and can have an insulting connotation. Photos on social media showed members of the group standing behind the banner making the Nazi salute.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who is Jewish, condemned the incident in a tweet. “I am heartbroken to see antisemitic hatred in Austin, a welcoming and respectful place. Hatred of any kind has no place in our city,” he wrote, linking to the ADL’s website form for reporting incidents of bias or antisemitism.

The banner was hung over the MoPac Expressway on the city’s west side, just a few blocks away from the Shalom Austin Jewish Community Center and several synagogues. The banner incident came just a few days after racist and antisemitic graffiti was discovered at Anderson High School, about a mile and a half away from the JCC.

In a letter to the Jewish community Sunday, the JCC said it was in touch with the police about the incident and warned that while the group might stage more demonstrations in the coming days, members of the Jewish community were advised not to engage with them. The letter said there did not appear to be a connection between the graffiti at the high school and the banner.

“The Austin Police Department is aware, has been incredibly supportive, and has been carefully monitoring and observing the situation,” the JCC leaders wrote.

A photo of a member of the hate group fist bumping an Austin Police officer also circulated on social media Sunday, prompting some to accuse the police department of harboring supporters of the antisemitic group. Joseph Chacon, chief of the Austin Police, responded to that accusation in a statement.

“A supervisor responded to the scene and got a protester to comply with his requests to ensure the scene remained safe. At the conclusion of the conversation, the responding supervisor declined a request for a handshake and instead opted for a fist-bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols. APD remains vigilant in its priority in keeping the Austin community safe and holding those who commit crimes accountable,” Chacon said.

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Israel designates 6 Palestinian rights groups as terrorist organizations, irking US and infuriating human rights orgs

Sun, 2021-10-24 15:50

(JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that Israel’s government will consider six leading Palestinian rights organizations operating in the West Bank as terrorist groups, prompting its first public spat with the Biden administration.

The groups include some of the leading Palestinian civil society groups advocating for farmworkers, women, children, and Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.

Gantz called out their alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group designated by the U.S. and others as a terrorist group. The PFLP was responsible for a string of plane hijackings in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the groups named by Gantz have been dogged by accusations from Israeli groups of ties to the PFLP for years.

By designating the groups as terrorist organizations, Israel can close the organizations’ offices, seize their assets and effectively stop donations to the groups. The groups named are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the Biden administration will ask Israel to clarify its reasons for the decision. He also said the Israeli government “did not give us advance warning” about the announcement.

An anonymous official in Israel’s Defense Ministry disputed that claim to The Times of Israel on Saturday.

“Officials in the American administration were updated in advance of the intention to make this declaration and they received intelligence information about the matter,” the official said.

In the same State Department briefing, Price also criticized Israel’s announcement that it would begin building thousands of new homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Several human rights organizations around the world condemned Gantz’s announcement on Friday.

“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians,” the organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement.

New Israel Fund, a progressive Jewish organization operating in Israel and the United States, called the announcement “repressive.”

“At a time when both Palestinians and Israelis need civil society to work overtime, we stand with all those who work to hold their governments to account,” the group said.

At the same time, organizations that had advocated for the designation for years celebrated.

“The Israeli announcement confirms what our research has shown years – this time 6 Palestinian NGOs were designated as terrorist organizations as part of the PFLP network. All are funded by European gov’ts and deeply involved in political warfare against Israel,” NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that publishes reports on non-governmental organizations that work on Israel-Palestine related matters, said in a tweet.

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Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, is convicted on six counts related to campaign finance violations

Sun, 2021-10-24 12:42

(JTA) — Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-American Jewish businessman and close associate of Rudy Giuliani who was arrested two years ago on charges of campaign finance violations, was convicted by a jury in New York City Friday. The charges could land Parnas in jail for up to five years for the first five counts. The sixth count for which he was convicted, falsifying records to the Federal Elections Commission, carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years.

Speaking to the press after the verdict, Parnas spoke vaguely about his next steps.

“Obviously I’m upset, but at this time I just want to get home to my wife and kids and deal with it. I want to thank [my] lawyers, Joe and Stephanie. They put out an incredible fight, I mean, incredible. We got to reassess what happened in there and figure out what the next steps are,” Parnas said, according to CNN.

Parnas and his co-conspirator Igor Fruman were arrested in 2019 for attempting to trade political contributions for support for a cannabis company they were starting. Parnas was also convicted of funneling money from Fruman to the Republican Party and to PACs that supported Donald Trump through a fake company and then lying about it to the FEC.

During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors several photos of Parnas and Fruman with members of Donald Trump’s inner orbit. According to CNN, Parnas and Fruman even met with Trump himself during the White House Hanukkah party in 2018.

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Biden names Atlanta Jewish leader as envoy to UN Human Rights Council

Sun, 2021-10-24 01:16

(JTA) — President Joe Biden named a leader of the Atlanta Jewish community to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body that has been widely criticized as overly hostile to Israel.

The Atlanta Jewish Times reported Friday that Biden’s choice is Michèle Taylor, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, a founder of the Or Hadash congregation outside of Atlanta, a past member of the U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial Council and someone who has been involved in the Atlanta Jewish community  in other capacities.

She has also been involved in senior fundraising positions for the Democratic Party and is currently a member of the board of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The Trump administration quit the Human Rights Council because of its consistent focus on what the body alleged were Israeli human rights abuses, while allowing other countries with controversial human rights records, including China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Saudi Arabia, to be members and help set the agenda. Israel has never been on the council and has refused to cooperate in the Council’s investigations.

Biden and past Democratic administrations acknowledge the council’s bias against Israel but say the United States is better served as a member of the group working to advance its human rights agenda — and to tamp down anti-Israel rhetoric. Biden rejoined the Council late last week.

The White House’s nomination statement noted that Taylor is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and said Taylor “has served in a number of roles advocating for protection of fundamental human and political rights.”

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In a shift, Conservative movement publicly lists the rabbis it has expelled and suspended

Fri, 2021-10-22 20:16

(JTA) — Failing to pay membership dues, wedding a Jew to a non-Jew and sexually abusing a congregant — these are among the violations that have long served as grounds for the expulsion of rabbis from the Conservative movement’s rabbinical association. 

But until this week, news about which rabbis were ejected or suspended emerged in piecemeal fashion. Now, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly is listing them — and the reason for their censure — on a public website. 

The decision to publish a list of expelled and suspended rabbis comes as the Conservative movement — along with other Jewish denominations — grapples with how to handle ethical failures by clergy, especially around sexual misconduct. In April, the RA set out to update its code of conduct and enforcement mechanisms while reviewing how past cases played out. 

“The publication of the names of those who are in violation of our Code of Conduct is one more step in our ongoing commitment to transparency,” Rabbi Daniel Pressman, chair of the Rabbinical Assembly’s ethics committee, said in a statement. 

The list features no details about violations beyond the date of expulsion or suspension and what general rule was broken by the rabbis. 

Among the nine rabbis currently named, some involve well-known cases of misconduct and others are largely unknown. 

The list is divided into three groups. Five rabbis were expelled for “ethical violations of the code of conduct,” including three — Henri Noach, Charles Shalman and Tobias Gabriel — who have been openly accused of sexual misconduct at the synagogues they led.

Three rabbis were expelled for violating the Rabbinical Assembly’s rules, including Seymour Rosenbloom and Joseph Wolf, who had each announced that he would perform intermarriages. 

And one rabbi is listed as temporarily suspended for “verbal sexual misconduct” of an unspecified nature.

Some Conservative rabbis who have pushed the movement to take misconduct allegations more seriously reacted to the publication of the list with cautious optimism.  

Rabbi Eric Woodward, who confronted his former congregation’s leadership over an incident of alleged sexual misconduct by a lay leader, called the move a “good start” but said that rabbis are not the only authority figures whose misconduct demands scrutiny.  

“We need our movement to publicly hold accountable synagogues and lay leaders who engage in sexual predation and cover-ups of misconduct,” he said.

While the list serves as a notice to the world about problematic rabbis, it does not offer a full accounting of the Conservative movement’s rabbinical expulsions. That’s because the list only goes back to 2004, and any rabbis who were expelled and then died are also excluded. 

And in its statement announcing the list, the RA appeared to acknowledge that many cases of misconduct may have never been reported because of longstanding and society-wide norms that protect abusers.  

“As a society we have learned the dangers when we fail to speak up and speak out,” Rabbi Sheryl Katzman, senior director of member engagement for the RA, said in the statement. “The work of revising and updating the RA Professional Code of Conduct is part of our sacred obligation to continuously improve our practices that help to maintain and create safe communities.”

In its decision to maintain safety by publicly listing suspended clergy, the RA named a rabbi whose congregation believes has already made amends to its satisfaction. 

Rabbi Jeremy Gerber was suspended on June 4 of last year for violating the rule against verbal sexual misconduct, and he is prohibited from serving in leadership positions at the RA and is being barred from the association’s conferences until June 2022. At that point, he can be reinstated. 

Joel Fein, the president of Gerber’s Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, said that everyone at the congregation is looking forward to that day. 

Fein declined to share details on the allegations, citing the privacy of those involved, but he said members of the congregation know what happened and that the rabbi has engaged in a process of teshuvah, or atonement. 

“The congregation decided in its best interests to retain Rabbi Gerber,” Fein said. “The key thing for us as leadership is that the congregation emerge from this as healthy and whole as possible.”

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Katie Couric reveals that her mother was Jewish in new autobiography

Fri, 2021-10-22 20:08

(JTA) — Katie Couric reveals in her new autobiography that her mother was Jewish, contrasting her mother’s upbringing with that of her father, who was apparently proud of his Confederate ancestors.

Couric delves into the revelation in “Going There,” published this week, which she also discussed Thursday in a long interview with Rebecca Traister, a Jewish feminist journalist, in New York magazine. Even well into her own adulthood, the former NBC “Today Show” and “CBS Evening News” anchor did not discuss her mother’s Jewishness.

She recalls, as an adult, discovering her late mother, Elinor, weeping after some friends made antisemitic remarks, but not explaining that she was wounded because she was Jewish.

Katie Couric’s first realization that she came from a Jewish background was when she was 10 years old and spotted a menorah in her mother’s brother’s house. The first thing that ran through her head was the song by the Jewish satirist Tom Lehrer: “Oh the Protestants hate the Catholics, and the Catholics hate the Protestants… and everybody hates the Jews.”

Her mother and her grandparents seemed ambivalent about being Jewish; she discovers a letter from her mother’s father to his daughter urging her to mix with non-Jews. Her mother winces when Couric, as a TV personality, adopts the word “Oy.”

Couric theorizes in her interview with Traister that her mother was seeking to avoid the antisemitism she must have encountered growing up, and also to protect the reputation of her father, a newsman and publicist. The family lived in the South, and Couric’s father, who was descended from Confederate soldiers, was obsessed with the Confederacy. Her late husband, Jay Monahan, was also an aficionado of the Confederacy and was proud of Couric’s Confederate roots.

The book has also earned publicity for its revelation that Couric in 2016 repressed parts of an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Jewish liberal Supreme Court justice. In the interview, Ginsburg spoke derisively of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who protested racism in America by taking a knee during the national anthem.

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The Jewish Sport Report: This month will now be known as Joctober

Fri, 2021-10-22 19:39

This article was sent as a newsletter. Sign up for our weekly Jewish sports newsletter here

Hello! Welcome to The Jewish Sport Report, a brand new sports newsletter from your friends at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Alma. We are excited to bring you the latest and greatest sports news each week, all through a Jewish lens. Grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and don’t forget to share this with your friends!

What made last night different from all other nights? No, it wasn’t the Four Questions — it was the four sports. For only the 25th time ever, all four men’s professional sports leagues were in action on the same day: MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL. We hope you celebrated accordingly by telling your friends and loved ones whenever a Jewish athlete was on screen.

Celebrating Joctober

Joc Pederson of the Atlanta Braves rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run on Sunday, October 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images).

October has become Joc Pederson’s favorite time of year.

The Jewish slugger thrives like few others do in the MLB playoffs. This year he already has a .308 batting average, 3 home runs and 9 runs batted in for his Atlanta Braves — many of those hits coming in clutch situations.

Pederson spent seven years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this postseason, he’s been a key figure in carrying the Braves to a 3-2 lead over LA in the National League Championship Series. His Dodger teammates popularized the term “Joctober.”

“They don’t call it ‘Joctober’ for no reason,” his former teammate Max Muncy once said. “That guy performs on the big stage. It’s just what he does.”

But this year, the craze surrounding Pederson — who has a Jewish mom, and has played for Team Israel — really began on Sept. 29, when the Braves played the Philadelphia Phillies. He came up to bat wearing a pearl necklace — and since then, he hasn’t played without it. In an interview the next night, after the Braves clinched the NL East title, the 29-year-old said “It’s a mystery for everyone, they’ll never know.” On Oct. 2, his legend grew, as he said he was wearing them because he’s just a “bad bitch.” More recently, he explained the inspiration came from seeing other pearl necklaces out and about. “They kind of caught my eye. I was like, ‘You know, those look good,’” Joc said. “I texted my jeweler and got some out.’’

As my colleague Evelyn Frick wrote in Alma: “Whether Joc realizes it or not, his decision to wear pearls during a game, a piece of jewelry which is often associated with 1950s-era housewives and thus femininity, is a subtle act of transgressing sports fashion norms, the pervasive hyper masculinity of professional sports, and ultimately pushes gender boundaries in an extraordinary way. In short, it’s an act that took a lot of chutzpah.”

And now that it’s October — excuse us, Joctober — Joc has given Jewish baseball fans everywhere an easy Halloween costume idea: throw on a Pederson jersey, some costume pearls, even cut your hair into a mohawk, and bam. You, too, could be a Jewish MLB star. (Please, tag us in photos @jtanews and @hey.alma if you / your children do this.) We will remain on Joc Pederson Pearl Watch (JPPW, if you will) throughout the rest of the postseason, and will keep you posted.

Side note: Joc’s Jewish teammate, Braves starting pitcher Max Fried, has also had an impressive October. Despite a less-than-stellar performance last night, Fried is 1-1 this postseason, with a 3.78 earned run average and 17 strikeouts in three starts.

– Emily Burack

Schayes of greatness 

Syracuse Nats Adolph Schayes holding basketball, 1959 (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)

As part of the festivities marking its semisesquicentennial (look it up!), the NBA released its Top 75 players list this week over the course of three days. Two days and 50 players in, we were getting nervous — no Dolph Schayes. The NBA’s most distinguished Jewish player made the cut back in 1996 when the league celebrated 50 years with a Top 50 list. But recency bias being what it is (and an understandable skepticism about the style and quality of play in the NBA’s pre-integration era), we were worried that our long-ago legend would get the shaft this time around. Not to worry — shanda averted.

When the NBA released the final 26 names on Thursday night (one extra due to a tie), Schayes was on the list. And for good reason. He was a 12-time All-Star who from 1950 to 1961 was ranked as the best or second best power forward in the league (six times each). If they gave out NBA Finals MVPs back then, he would have won one for leading the Syracuse Nationals (the future Philadelphia 76ers) to the league title in 1955. Yes, the league he entered was a different universe and his high-arching two-handed set shot (nicknamed Sputnik) would be unrecognizable in today’s game. Yet he is widely recognized as an era-crossing player, who remained a star even after the league left its prehistoric era and took its first steps toward the modern game with the arrival of Black players and introduction of the 24-second shot clock.

Want more Dolph? Check out this rundown of factoids and career highlights on JTA.

– Ami Eden

Jews in sports to watch this weekend

 IN BASEBALL…

The playoffs continue tonight with Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros. Will Alex Bregman and the ‘Stros advance to the World Series, or will Chaim Bloom’s Sox force Game 7? And after falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, Pederson and the Braves head back to Atlanta for Game 6 tomorrow night.

IN HOCKEY…

The NHL season is underway, and the league has a groundbreaking group of Jewish hockey players right now. From winger Zach Hyman — who intentionally wears #18, or chai — to the Hughes brothers, the crop of Jewish skaters this season is, dare we say, historic. Nearly all of them are playing this weekend. We’ll definitely be watching Adam Fox of the New York Rangers on Sunday — the 23-year-old from Long Island became the first Jewish player to win a major NHL award last year when he was given the Norris Trophy for best defenseman in the league. Check out the full JTA NHL season preview here. 

IN TENNIS…

Italian Jewish tennis player Camila Giorgi is the fourth seed in the Tenerife Ladies Open, a WTA 250 event. As of this morning’s 6-1, 6-1 win in the quarterfinals against Dutch player Arantxa Rus, Camila is into the semifinals. If she wins that match tomorrow, she plays in the finals on Sunday. On the men’s side, Argentine Jewish player Diego Schwartzman defeated former world no. 1 Andy Murray in the European Open, an ATP 250 event. It was the first-ever meeting between the two and Schwartzman won easily, 6-4, 7-6(6). Schwartzman is into the quarterfinals, today, against Brandon Nakashima. Schwartzman is the no. 2 seed, so if El Peque keeps winning (knock on wood), also look for him to play in the finals on Sunday.

IN FOOTBALL…

As the NFL heads into week 7, three Jews to keep your eyes on: Ali Marpet, an offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will most likely play. (He’s started in all but 11 games since joining the team in 2015!) Nate Ebner, a special teamer for the New York Giants, is back in action after beginning the season injured, and Jewish tight end (and Harvard grad, nbd) Anthony Firkser of the Tennessee Titans may play. A note on Firkser: It’s his fourth season in the NFL, and he’s scored exactly one touchdown in each of his three seasons. Will this weekend be his fourth touchdown? (Will Jewish Sport Report co-writer Emily ever figure out how to play fantasy football even though it’s already week 7? Only time will tell.)

IN SOCCER…

The MLS is headed into Week 32 (of 34, if you’re unfamiliar with American men’s soccer — don’t worry, we are too, the American women’s national team is way more exciting to track). Some Jews to watch, all playing defense, in order of likely starting to likely not: Steve Birnbaum, a defender for DC United, dressed his family up in very cute “Where the Wild Things Are” costumes this week. But relevant for the Jewish Sport Report, he has started in their last five matches, so absolutely look for him Saturday. Jonathan Bornstein, the 36-year-old Mexican and Romanian Jewish defender for the Chicago Fire, converted to Christianity when he met his wife, but he still feels close to his Jewish heritage (plus, he’s played in the Maccabiah Games and in the Israeli League). He’s started 22 games this season, so for sure look for him on Sunday. LA Galaxy defender Daniel Steres — a former JCC soccer player! — has started 13 games this season, but hasn’t played since their Oct. 3 game, so he could play this weekend. Last: Zac MacMath, backup goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake, has started only 7 games this season with the team. Unless starting goalie David Ochoa isn’t in this weekend, Zac likely won’t be coming off the bench. But perhaps!

The last word  

“I want to be the first Israeli [to play] in the playoffs,” Deni Avdija said on Wednesday. Will the 20-year-old, 6’9” Jewish forward for the Washington Wizards achieve his goal in his second year in the NBA? Let us know what you think — we’re at sports@jta.org.

Have a good end to your Joctober! We’ll see you next week.

From our sponsor: Who are the 180 Jews who have played in at least one major-league baseball game? The Jewish Baseball Museum has the all-time roster. Visit their site here for biographies of each player, with career stats and a selection of their baseball cards.

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A young, gay Russian Jew navigates ’80s New York in ‘Minyan,’ a new film set in Brighton Beach

Fri, 2021-10-22 19:03

(JTA) — A gay Russian Jewish teenager comes of age in Brighton Beach in the touching new independent film “Minyan,” a subtle and sensitive drama that tells an unexpected story about the Brooklyn neighborhood’s large immigrant Jewish community. 

Based on a short story by David Bezmozgis, an author who has long grappled with Russian Jewish identity in meticulous and probing ways, Eric Steel’s film finds a unique way to highlight its queer themes through the prism of an Orthodox Jewish culture that heavily prizes manhood, and strength in numbers. If 10 men gathering in prayer is a holy act, the film posits, then surely two men gathering in love must have some degree of holiness to it, as well.

Samuel H. Levine, who riveted Broadway audiences in “The Inheritance,” turns in a fully lived-in lead performance as David, the only son to a family of Soviet Jewish immigrants in 1986. David, whom Levine plays with a quiet, subdued curiosity, feels little affection for his parents: His mother (Brooke Bloom), insistent on sending him to a yeshiva where he is routinely bullied, seems blind to his true needs, while his abusive, philandering father seems to be imparting the wrong ideas about masculinity. To discipline his son for getting into a fight with another yeshiva student who mocks him for being Russian, David’s father sucker-punches him in the face.

Instead, David gravitates to his grandfather Josef (Ron Rifkin), whose calm, matter-of-fact rituals bring him comfort. As the film opens, Josef has decided to seek out a new apartment for himself after the death of his wife. Here we see why the film is called “Minyan”: Josef is only able to secure a fixed-income apartment in a synagogue building once David agrees to join him, because together they give the congregation the requisite 10 men it needs to pray

This story is part of JTA's coverage of New York through the New York Jewish Week. To read more stories like this, sign up for our daily New York newsletter here.

In all these buildings full of Jews dealing with repressed generational trauma (the Holocaust and the Soviet Jewish purges are both frequently invoked), David finally discovers a little piece of himself. His neighbors in the synagogue are two elderly men who live together; they have a storyline that explains their arrangement, which the community accepts, but it’s clear they find more comfort in this open secret than they ever could have in the USSR. Soon after meeting them, David begins to explore a local gay bar, and loses his virginity to a brooding bartender (Alex Hurt) who, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, seems shocked by his new lover’s youth and ignorance of the disease — and how David, having already avoided one life of misery at the grace of his parents, is unaware he may now be dooming himself to another. 

As David quietly, tentatively tries to navigate his environment (partially with the help of James Baldwin’s books, which are invoked as holy texts on par with anything in the Talmud), “Minyan” finds meaningful ways to frame his maturity alongside his growth in Jewish thought. Aided by David Krakauer and Kathleen Tagg’s klezmer score, the film spotlights the moments when its hero comes into his own: leading a Mourner’s Kaddish prayer, advocating for a fellow Jew’s living conditions or simply listening to his mother describe her relief that she could give him a new life where he wouldn’t be targeted for his Judaism. 

Little in Steel’s prior filmography — his most notable previous directing credit was the controversial 2006 documentary “The Bridge,” which secretly filmed a year’s worth of suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge — indicated that he aimed to tackle a story as delicate and human as “Minyan.” But Steel himself grew up gay and Jewish in the 1980s, and he’s smartly fused Bezmozgis’ source material with his own memories to create a film with a personal touch. The movie even feels in league with works by Ira Sachs and Andrew Haigh, the reigning kings of layered, nuanced stories about gay communities, while also being deeply Jewish. “Minyan” is an intimate story of outcasts in many forms.

“Minyan” opens today at the IFC Center in New York and expands to Los Angeles and on-demand rental Oct. 29.

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