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Limmud learning festivals make debuts in Uruguay, Haifa

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 08:09

(JTA) — Limmud learning festivals were held for the first time in Uruguay and Haifa, Israel.

Over 200 participants, representing Haifa’s Jewish spectrum, chose from sessions on wine tasting and Israeli comedy, a Bible contest and chevruta dialogue, among others during last week’s program in the secular city where even public buses run on the Sabbath.

“Limmud Haifa embodies the spirit of Jewish renewal of the city,” Deputy Mayor Shay Blumenthal told the gathering as he thanked the volunteers.

One session included a live-link, trans-Atlantic session with Limmud Boston, Haifa’s twin city.

Some 140 participants took part last week in the Limmud program in Montevideo, Uruguay, ranging from secular to Chabad in their religious outlook.

Limmud, which means learning in Hebrew, has held events in over 40 countries on six continents since its founding in Britain in 1980.

Kharkiv Jewish philanthropist dies of gunshot head wound

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 06:53

(JTA) — Vadim Vishnevsky, a prominent member of the Jewish community of Kharkiv in Ukraine, died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Vishnevsky was rushed to the hospital on Nov. 20 from his office and died the same day, the Ukrainian Vesti newspaper reported Sunday.

Police are investigating the shooting, which according to some accounts may have been self-inflicted, Vesti reported. An unnamed source told the Interfax news agency that Vishnevsky left what appeared to be a suicide note.

Vishnevsky was vice president of the Jewish Foundation of Ukraine and head of the Council of Regions of the Jewish Community of Ukraine. He also was one of the largest shareholders of Kharkiv Golden Gate Bank.

He is survived by a wife and three children, according to a report on the Ukrainian Jewish news website evreiskiy.kiev.ua.

Vishnevsky was among the initiators of a monument in memory of approximately 15,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis at the Drobytsky Yar killing site near Kharkiv. He also sponsored renovation work at a historic Kharkiv synagogue, and social projects within the Jewish community and for the general population.

Swiss art museum formally agrees to accept Gurlitt collection

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 06:45

(JTA) — A Swiss museum formally agreed to accept the bequest of hundreds of artworks from the late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt, which may include Nazi-looted art.

In its announcement Monday, the Kunstmuseum Bern said it would work with German officials to ensure that all looted art in the collection is returned to its owners or their heirs. , Gurlitt named the museum his sole heir before his death in May.

The collection reportedly is worth about $1.26 billion. The museum said it had no prior relationship with Gurlitt.

“The ultimate aim was to clarify how the Kunstmuseum Bern could meet the responsibilities imposed upon it by the bequest,” Christoph Schaeublin, president of the museum’s board of trustees, said at a news conference Monday.

A German task force will continue to investigate the provenance of the artworks to determine which pieces were looted and to discover their rightful owners. Pieces for which no owners can be identified will be displayed in Germany in order to try to find the owners or heirs, according to the museum.

Some 1,400 works were confiscated from Gurlitt’s Munich home in 2012 in the course of an investigation for tax evasion. Other works were subsequently found in Gurlitt’s second home in Salzburg, Austria.

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis. When Hildebrand Gurlitt died in 1956, his son inherited the collection, which includes works by Picasso, Durer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse.

In April, Gurlitt signed an agreement with the state of Bavaria and the German federal government in which the provenance of all works would be researched, paving the way for the return of the paintings to the heirs of the rightful owners.

The work of the task force in searching for possible rightful owners continued after Gurlitt’s death.

Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, applauded the museum’s announcement as it appears on paper and said what counts now is implementation.

“Today, Germany and Switzerland stood up and said this is what we believe are best practices,” he said. “And now the world is watching.”



Ashkelon mayor decides against ban on Arab workers

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 16:43

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimon has walked back his decision to lay off city Arab workers in the aftermath of the deadly synagogue attack in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Shimoni agreed to allow the workers to complete construction work on bomb shelters in the city’s preschools and relocate the students to the local community center, Ynet reported. The plan was to be presented to parents at a meeting that night.

Shimoni on Friday had ordered a halt to the project, which is expected to take a week, to prevent Arab workers from entering the city. The decision followed a couple of days after five people were killed in the synagogue attack by two Palestinians from eastern Jerusalem.

The mayor said he made the decision after parents said they were uncomfortable with the Arab workers around their children and asked for additional armed security guards when the workers were present.

“Unfortunately, my decisions were taken out of proportion,” Shimoni told Ynet. “I was simply listening to the parents of the mentioned kindergartens. At no point did I order the expulsion of Arabs from Ashkelon.”

Kipah-clad New Zealand boy, 4, smacked on head

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 16:32

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A 4-year-old boy wearing a kipah was slapped on his head as he walked home from a Chabad house in Auckland, New Zealand.

The boy was said to be traumatized last week by the apparent anti-Semitic attack, which was witnessed by his mother, according to a report Sunday in the New Zealand Herald.

The alleged offender was a man in his 20s “of Middle Eastern appearance,” said New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman, according to the article. Goodman said the man apparently laughed as he fled in a car with several other men.

“Anti-Semitism in any form cannot be tolerated,” Goodman said. “Racially motivated attacks against children are cowardly and have no place in New Zealand.”

Goodman said that in the Jewish community, there had been talk of children not wearing their traditional clothes in public for fear of being abused.

“If an adult is verbally abused, they will know how to handle it. When these sort of things happen against children, it is quite a different story,” he said.

Race relations commissioner Susan Devoy in addressing the attack said, “When our Kiwi kids are scared to wear a yarmulke or a head scarf because some adult may abuse and attack them, we have failed,” she said.

Approximately 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, mostly in Auckland, among a population of 4.5 million.

Wellesley College drops Hillel director, Jewish chaplain posts

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 16:16

(JTA) — Wellesley College eliminated the posts of Hillel director and Jewish chaplain.

The two part-time positions at the all-female school in suburban Boston were removed last week, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The college, which pays the salaries of the Wellesley Hillel staffers, said it decided to restructure and will hire a full-time rabbi to serve as Jewish chaplain, according to Haaretz. An interim Hillel director was hired to work nights four to eight hours a week.

The university reportedly made the decision without input from students, alumni or other stakeholders.

“It makes me and other students feel like we just lost our support system and are on our own,” Tali Marcus, a senior psychology major who is co-president of Wellesley Friends of Israel, told the newspaper.

The campus has been beset by tensions between the pro-Palestinian and Jewish communities since early in the fall semester.

Shortly after Israel’s military operation in Gaza had ended, posters featuring the images of Palestinian children who were killed or wounded appeared on dining hall walls, Haaretz reported.

Jewish students reportedly asked the university officials to intercede on the anti-Israel incidents on campus. Haaretz reported that the Wellesley administration did not respond to questions about the request or anti-Israel activities.

Also, a monthly dialogue between pro-Palestinian and Jewish students fell apart at the first meeting of the term.

About 10 percent of the Wellesley student body of 2,700 is Jewish.

Jordan’s parliament holds moment of silence for synagogue killers

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 16:03

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jordan’s parliament held a moment of silence for the two Palestinian terrorists who killed five people in a Jerusalem synagogue attack.

The gesture, along with the reading of Koran verses, was held a day after the Nov. 18 attack, the Israeli media reported Friday.

The Jordanian government condemned the attack.

Also, Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, sent a letter of condolence to the families of the terrorists, Palestinian cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal of eastern Jerusalem, Israel’s Channel 10 reported. The gunmen were killed in a shootout with Israeli police.

The expressions of sympathy come less than a week after King Abdullah II of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Amman. At the meeting, Abdullah and Netanyahu agreed to work to dial back escalating tension and violence in eastern Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Italian aliyah expected to double in ’14

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 13:22

MILAN, Italy (JTA) – Italy is experiencing a sharp upsurge in Jews making aliyah.

An estimated 300 Italian Jews are expected to move to Israel in 2014, the Italo-Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola told the Italian news agency ANSA on Friday. The Jewish Agency affirmed to JTA that the figure — more than double from a year ago — was accurate.

Some 152 Jews made aliyah from Italy in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency.

Several Italian Jewish leaders said the economic situation, including the difficulty for young people to find jobs, figured strongly in the aliyah increase, with Jews feeling that “they can lead a better life in Israel.” They said the economic crisis hit the Jewish community in Rome particularly hard — many of the city’s 12,000 or so Jews are shopkeepers or run small businesses.

Italy’s overall jobless rate tops 12 percent; for young people the figure is more than 40 percent.

The Italian Jewish community has about 24,000 registered members.

Controversial Jewish nation-state bill passes Israeli Cabinet vote

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 09:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet passed a bill that would identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The measure, which has engendered controversy, advanced in a 14-6 vote on Sunday. It must pass a preliminary reading and two other readings in the Israeli parliament, which will consider the so-called nation-state law on Wednesday.

The ministers of the Likud (with the exception of Culture Minister Limor Livnat), Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home parties voted for the bill, which was proposed by Zeev Elkin of Likud. Five members of the Yesh Atid party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua opposed the nation-state bill. Livnat abstained from the vote.

Under the bill, which “defines the State of Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Hebrew would become the official language, with Arabic having “special status.” Also, the measure also calls Jewish law a basis for new legislation, among other matters.

A softening of the legislation proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will be substituted for the current version when it returns to committee after the preliminary reading.

The Cabinet’s closed-door discussion on the bill reportedly degenerated into a shouting match.

“The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish People,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the Cabinet meeting. “It has equal individual rights for every citizen and we insist on this. But only the Jewish People have national rights: a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country and other national symbols. These are granted only to our people, in its one and only state.”


Jonathan Pollard’s first parole application rejected

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 09:10

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jonathan Pollard was turned down in his first application for parole.

“The breadth and scope of the classified information that you sold to the Israelis was the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date,” the parole commission said in an August letter to the Israeli spy, according to The Jerusalem Post, which obtained the letter and broke the news in a cover story in its Friday magazine.

“You passed thousands of Top Secret documents to Israeli agents, threatening U.S. relations in the Middle East among the Arab countries,” the parole commission letter said. “Given all this information, paroling you at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the offense and promote disrespect for the law.”

Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in 1987 after being arrested two years earlier, had not applied for parole until now, the Post said, in part because he favored a presidential commutation, which would release him unconditionally. He has been eligible to apply for parole for 19 years.

Parole likely would require a period of remaining in the United States. Pollard, 60, was made an Israeli citizen in the 1990s and wants to move to Israel.

Part of what changed Pollard’s mind was an Israeli television interview with President Obama in March 2013 in which the U.S. leader said that he would make sure that Pollard “is accorded the same kinds of review and same examination of the equities that any other individual would be provided.”

Pollard, the Post said, understood that to mean that Obama would ensure that any parole process would be fair.

Last week, Obama received a letter from former senior U.S. government officials familiar with the classified letter written by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that reportedly is keeping Pollard in prison strongly criticizing the parole process as “deeply flawed.”

The officials, including former CIA director James Woolsey; former U.S. National Security Advisor Robert MacFarlane; former chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Sens. Dennis DeConcini and David Durenburger, said in the letter that by calling Pollard’s crime “the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date,” the Parole Commission Decision document bases  its decision to deny parole on “a patently false claim.”

This claim, wrote the officials, “is false and is not supported by any evidence in the public record or the classified file.”

They also pointed out that the commission ignored documentary evidence that mitigated in favor of Pollard’s release, as well as the recommendations by top level officials with firsthand knowledge of the case that called for Pollard’s unconditional release.

The parole commission said it would review Pollard’s case again next year.

National Archives makes postwar Shanghai visa records available

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 08:08

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. National Archives has opened to researchers post-World War II visa application records from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.

The records provide a potential trove of information about Holocaust refugees in the Chinese city. Dozens already are available; more will be in the future.

“From 1938 on, an estimated 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escaped to Shanghai, the only place in the world that did not require a visa to enter,” according to a statement Thursday from the archives. “Between 1939 and 1940, nearly 2,000 Polish Jews escaped to Shanghai, avoiding certain death.”

The 1,300 case files for applicants for U.S. visas covers the period 1946-51 and could provide a window into the postwar movements of the refugees.

In addition to Jewish refugees, the city hosted diasporas from an array of war-battered countries.

Obama renews Iran sanctions on eve of deal deadline

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 07:59

WASHINGTON (JTA) — On the eve of a deadline for an Iran nuclear deal, President Obama exercised a routine renewal of sanctions against the country.

The presidential determination issued Friday, three days before the deadline, declared that there are sufficient alternative sources of oil production to justify continuing sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

Such determinations are required periodically by law.

The deal between Iran and the major powers would reduce sanctions over time in exchange for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapons program.

14 recognized as righteous for saving Jews in the Netherlands

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 07:30

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Fourteen non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust were honored as righteous gentiles.

The title of Righteous Among the Nations — a distinction awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem — was given posthumously on Friday to Frederika Maria Segboer and Christina Segboer, sisters who hid Jews and helped them reach safety in Spain.

Earlier this month, Israeli diplomats conferred the title posthumously on another 12 recipients during a ceremony in The Hague.

At the Friday ceremony, Frederika’s daughter, Marijke van de Meent-Segboer, accepted the honor in Gorinchem, near Rotterdam, for her mother and aunt, who directed Jews they hid to the Westerweel group — a ring of resistance fighters who helped smuggle at least 210 Jews out of the Netherlands, as well as hundreds of non-Jews who were wanted by the Nazi occupation forces.

Many of the Jews smuggled by the group to Spain would move on to prestate Israel.

Among those honored at The Hague ceremony were Cornelia Kloppenburg and her husband, Leenderd Mostard, who worked as a chauffeur near The Hague. During the Holocaust, the couple took in a 4-year-old Jewish child, Micha Konig.

“They saved my life more than once and I will be grateful to them for as long as I live,” said Konig, 75, an author, at the ceremony at the municipal building.

Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Haim Divon, conferred the honor on the couple.

The Netherlands, which had 140,000 Jews before the Holocaust, has over 5,350 Righteous Among the Nations — more than a fifth of the overall number in Yad Vashem’s records and more than any other country except Poland.


Netanyahu: No Iran agreement is preferable to bad one

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 07:21

JERUSALEM (JTA) — No agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is preferable to a bad one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night briefed Netanyahu on the world powers’ nuclear talks with Iran, Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday at its regular weekly meeting.

Netanyahu said that a “bad agreement” could “endanger Israel, the Middle East and all of humanity.”

The Israeli leader said his country was monitoring developments in the talks.

“We are holding discussions with the representatives of other major powers and are presenting them with a vigorous position to the effect that Iran must not be allowed to be determined as a nuclear threshold state,” Netanyahu said. “There is no reason why it should be left with thousands of centrifuges that could enable it to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short time.”

The talks have a Monday deadline for a deal. On Sunday, a trilateral meeting featured Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union representative Catherine Ashton.

If there is no resolution of the talks by the end of Sunday, Iran and the world powers reportedly will agree to extend the deadline for the talks by several months.

Palestinian man shot was approaching Gaza fence, IDF says

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 07:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli troops shot a Palestinian man in northern Gaza who the Israeli military said was approaching the security fence between Israel and Gaza.

Palestinian officials said Fadil Muhammad Halawah, 32, was killed while hunting birds Sunday in the northern Gaza Strip when he was shot, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

The Israeli military told Maan that Halawah and another man approached the security fence and did not stop when ordered by Israeli troops.

The soldiers fired warning shots before firing at the men’s lower extremities, hitting one, the IDF said. The IDF could not confirm the condition of the man.

Halawah would be the first Gaza Palestinian killed by Israeli bullets since Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza last summer.

Also Sunday, two Palestinians from Gaza who infiltrated into Israel were stopped near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the IDF said. One of the men was carrying a grenade.

Jewish settlers torched widow’s West Bank home, Palestinian officials say

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 06:57

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian home in the West Bank was set afire in what Palestinian officials said was an attack by Israeli Jewish settlers.

A firebomb was thrown through the window of the home located in a village near Ramallah early Sunday morning, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. “Death to Arabs” and “vengeance” also was spray-painted on the house.

The widow who lives in the two-story house told the B’Tselem human rights groups that she heard people speaking in Hebrew outside the home at the time of the attack. Most of the damage was confined to the first story, according to Maan.

Israel Police are investigating the arson attack.

Yemen minister dedicates award to country’s Jews

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:42

Arwa Othman, Yemen’s minister of culture, donated a human rights prize to the country’s small Jewish community. (Human Rights Watch)

(JTA) — Yemen’s minister of culture is donating an international human rights prize to the country’s tiny and persecuted Jewish minority.

Arwa Othman, awarded the Alison Des Forges Award by Human Rights Watch in September, called for “tolerance” in her speech and announced she was giving her award to “brothers and friends from the Jewish community,” according to the Associated Press.

Othman made the announcement at a celebration Thursday in the capital city of Sanaa, where roughly half of the country’s Jewish population — numbering fewer than 90 in total — live in a guarded compound.

Arwa, a writer and former head of Yemen’s House of Folklore who was only appointed to her cabinet post last Friday, was praised by Human Rights Watch for her advocacy for civil rights in the country’s constitutional negotiations and her efforts to end child marriage. According to the AP, her advocacy for civil rights and the Jewish population has spurred a backlash by Yemen’s hardline Salafi Muslims.

Several injured in West Bank clashes

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 12:00

(JTA) — Several people were injured in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops in the West Bank on Friday.

Israeli soldiers fired crowd dispersal means at demonstrators near the Qalandiya checkpoint, hitting a Palestinian youth in the foot, the Ma’an news agency reported.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said at least 80 Palestinians hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces, lightly injuring one soldier.

In Hebron, clashes broke out near the Cave of the Patriarchs and several people were hit by rubber bullets.

Two Palestinians threw a Molotov cocktail at a nearby checkpoint, causing no injuries, the news site 0404.co.il reported.

In Bethlehem, youths clashed with soldiers near the Aida refugee camp as well as in Nabi Saleh and al-Bireh, Ma’an reported. Several injuries were reported in those places.

Three Palestinians were injured during clashes in Kafr Qaddum in Qalqiliya and Israeli forces sprayed Skunk water at demonstrators.

Two Jews lightly wounded in Jerusalem stabbing

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 11:47

(JTA) — Two Jewish men sustained minor injuries after being stabbed outside a religious seminary in eastern Jerusalem on Friday, Israeli media reported.

Magen David Adom paramedics rushed to the scene to treat the wounded men: a 24-year-old who sustained a back injury and a 21-year-old who was wounded in the head, the emergency service said.

The attack occurred at the Beit Orot yeshiva near  the Mount of Olives. According to the news site Ynet, the victims said their attackers were Arabs. The report did not say how many suspected perpetrators were involved.

The victims were evacuated to  Hadassah Medical Center as security forces began searching for the attackers near the scene of the incident.

Earlier this week, four people were killed in an attack perpetrated by two Palestinian terrorists inside a synagogue in western Jerusalem.

Report: Iranian envoy to return to Tehran ahead of nuke talks deadline

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 08:16

(JTA) — Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will leave the nuclear talks with six world powers and return to Tehran for discussions, Iranian media reported.

“Zarif will return to Tehran tonight for consultations and exchange of views with top officials,” Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported Friday, citing a member of the Iranian delegation at the Vienna talks.

Western diplomats in Vienna told Reuters Zarif was expected to return to Austria during the weekend. The deadline for a deal is Monday.

The six world powers are negotiating a deal with Iran to exchange sanctions relief for guarantees that it will not obtain a nuclear weapon.

Israel has expressed opposition to any deal that would allow Iran to continue to produce enriched uranium.

Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China began the final round of negotiations on a nuclear deal on Tuesday. Officials close to the talks have told media that the two sides are unlikely to secure a final agreement and may need to extend the negotiations beyond the deadline.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, speaking in Latvia, said earlier this week: “I am not optimistic that we can get everything done by Monday.”

Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday met with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Paris to discuss talks with Iran, the New York Times reported.