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Turkey confirms ‘secret’ talks with Israel

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 15:18

(JTA) — Turkey confirmed it is negotiating with Israel on a deal to improve relations between the two countries, which have been tense since 2010, when Israel raided the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish boat seeking to break the Gaza blockade.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Wednesday that the two countries are meeting to normalize ties, the Times of Israel reported.

Cavusoglu’s comments came a day after Haaretz reported that Israeli and Turkish officials had held secret talks in Rome earlier in the week.

“These meetings are not new,” Cavusoglu said. “Expert-level talks have been held between the two countries for a while.”

After the Mavi Marmara raid, in which nine activists were killed and seven Israeli soldiers wounded, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador. It demanded Israel formally apologize, provide compensation and end the blockade of Gaza.

In 2013, Israel extended a formal apology. According to the Times of Israel, the Jewish state also has made a proposal to compensate the families of the victims, but no agreement has been made yet.

The talks come two weeks after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), lost its majority in the Turkish parliament.

Survey: Confidence in Obama falls dramatically in Israel

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 12:15

(JTA) — While President Barack Obama remains popular in most countries, the sharpest decline in his image occurred in Israel, according to a new survey.

In Israel, confidence in Obama on world affairs fell from 71 percent to 49 percent in the last year, according to the 2015 Spring Pew Global Attitudes Survey released Wednesday.

Some 15 percent of residents of the Palestinian Authority said they had confidence in Obama on world affairs, compared to 82 percent with no confidence. Jordan had similar figures with 14 percent confidence and 83 percent no confidence.

Residents of the Philippines had the most confidence in Obama with 94 percent; next was South Korea with 88 percent. France was third with 83 percent confidence.

American’s overall image around the world remains largely positive, according to the survey, with a median of 69 percent holding a favorable view and 24 percent an unfavorable opinion.

Some 81 percent of Israelis view the United States favorably and 18 percent unfavorably, similar to the past two years. However, 87 percent of Jewish-Israelis view the United States favorably, compared with 48 percent of Arab-Israelis, according to the survey.

Lebanon, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan have largely unfavorable opinions.

Results for the survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International during April and May. In Israel, 1,000 surveys were conducted in face-to-face interviews in Hebrew and Arabic, with a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Belz response on threat to driving mothers satisfies British panel

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 11:36

(JTA) — A British government committee will not take action against the Belz Hasidic group in London for threatening to ban from its schools students whose mothers drive.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said on Tuesday that it has received a “satisfactory response” from the leaders of the Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass boys school and the Beis Malka girls school over the threat, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

The commission said that the schools had offered assurances that “they will not exclude or refuse admission to any child or apply any other sanction on the basis of their mother driving.”

Late last month, Belz rabbis in London issued a letter saying that female drivers violate “the traditional rules of modesty in our camp” and that children would be expelled from Belz schools if their mothers dropped them off by car beginning in August with the new school year. Many Hasidic groups in the United States also frown upon women driving.

The letter brought accusations that the Belz were “trying to turn their London community into Saudi Arabia.” Britain’s education secretary and minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan, had ordered an investigation into the possible exclusion of pupils from school.

In response to the letter, the commission wrote to the schools to say that it would be against the law to deny children entry on such grounds, according to the Chronicle.

The policy of not allowing students to come to school if their mothers drive came from the Belzer rebbe in Israel, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Both schools have been rated “good” by Ofsted, Britain’s Office for Standards in Education.

70 Faces Media’s Kveller website takes Rockower Award for digital outreach

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 11:27

(JTA) — 70 Faces Media, the parent company of JTA, has received a Simon Rockower Award for digital outreach for its Kveller website.

The Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism are given out annually by the American Jewish Press Association.

Kveller, an online Jewish parenting and family forum, on Tuesday was named the recipient of the Award for Outstanding Digital Outreach in the category of Web Based Outlets and Jewish Organizations. Among Kveller’s popular contributors is actress Mayim Bialik.

Molly Tolsky is the editor of Kveller; Suzanne Samin is Kveller’s editorial assistant.

In addition to JTA and Kveller, 70 Faces Media websites include My Jewish Learning, with over 10,000 articles on all aspects of Jewish life, religion, and history; The Nosher, a Jewish food blog; and Jewniverse, a Jewish culture, tradition  and history website.

Also named a Rockower Award winner on Tuesday was the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia, which was recognized with a first place for Outstanding Digital Outreach for newspapers with 15,000 circulation and over. Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Jewish federation laid off the entire news and production staff of the newspaper and outsourced it to Mid-Atlantic Media, a Baltimore-area company.

Earlier this month, JTA was tapped for three first-place Rockowers: for Excellence in Writing About the Global Russian-Speaking Jewish Community; Excellence in a Multimedia Story; and Excellence in a Personal Essay.

A full list of winners is published on the AJPA website.

El Al launching nonstop Boston-Tel Aviv flights

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:44

BOSTON (JTA) — El Al, Israel’s national airline, is launching nonstop service between Boston and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The Israeli flag will be raised at Logan International Airport in Boston at a ceremony on Sunday.

The Tel Aviv-Boston route — the shortest between Israel and North America — is being seen as a further boost to the strong economic, academic and communal ties between Israel and Greater Boston and the New England region as a whole.

The flights will also serve as a gateway to 19 other U.S. cities through El Al’s partnership with Jet Blue Airlines, including Washington, D.C.

First announced last November, the flights add to El Al’s 34 weekly nonstop flights to New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. The schedule will include three weekly nonstop flights in both directions on a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, with 218 seats, including business and economy-plus class, according to a statement released by El Al.

“These flights will bring Israel and the Israeli-American and Jewish communities of Greater Boston closer together, strengthen the deep connection between the two communities and the Jewish State, and broaden business opportunities for Massachusetts and Israel,” said Ilan Segev, Boston co-chair of the Israeli-American Council.

In expanding its routes between Israel and North America, El Al is tapping into the increased demands and needs of the business community as well as promoting tourism, according to El Al President David Maimon.

The Boston area is home to some 200 companies with ties to Israel that contributed $6.2 million to the state’s economy, according to a 2013 report by David Goodtree, a board member of the New England-Israel Business Council. In addition, there are major Boston companies including EMC and Akamai that have established a large presence in Israel, Goodtree told JTA.

The flights are being promoted by a new website, FlyIsraelUSA, initiated by NEIBC and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

Woman to head Rome Jewish community for first time

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:34

ROME (JTA) – For the first time, a woman has been appointed to lead the Jewish community of Rome.

Ruth Dureghello, 48, who has managed a Jewish day school in the city for the past seven years, was named president on Tuesday at the first meeting of the new Rome community council, which was elected on June 14. There are 27 members on the council.

“It’s time to put aside any rivalries and work together for the good of the community,” Dureghello, who heads the For Israel list, said in her inaugural address.

In her address, she announced her intention to create a unity board that includes the other three lists which participated in the election.

The current community president, Riccardo Pacifici, was not eligible for reelection because of a regulation that prevents serving more than three consecutive terms. Pacifici is the founder of the For Israel list.

9 Druze-Israelis arrested in ambulance attacks

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 07:36

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Nine Druze-Israelis were arrested in two attacks on ambulances carrying wounded Syrians to Israeli hospitals, including one that left a Syrian dead.

On Wednesday, Israel Police arrested five people from the village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, where a mob of Druze-Israeli protesters on Monday night dragged two wounded Syrian fighters from the ambulance, beating one to death and seriously injuring the second.

The four others arrested are believed to have been involved in an attack earlier Monday on an ambulance driving by the Druze village of Hurfish, where residents blocked the path of the ambulance and threw stones at it.

The Druze attackers believed the injured men were members of Syrian rebel groups, which have been targeting Druze-Syrians living near the border with Israel as part of the country’s four-year civil war.

Israel treats wounded from the civil war in the field and at local hospitals regardless of what side they are fighting for. More than 1,600 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals during the civil war, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Israeli defense officials were scheduled to meet Wednesday with Druze leaders to calm the situation. Druze leaders have already condemned the attacks.

Netanyahu called on “every Druze citizen of Israel to respect soldiers, law and order, and not to take the law into their own hands.”

The Israel Defense Forces has increased security for hospitalized Syrians.

Israel cancels Gazans’ entry permits for Ramadan following rocket attack

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 06:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel canceled the permits allowing some 500 Gaza Palestinians to enter Israel and pray on the Temple Mount for Ramadan following a rocket attack from the coastal strip.

The coordinator of government activity in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told the Palestinian Maan news agency on Wednesday that the visits were canceled because “the security conditions around the crossing aren’t stable,” since the rocket landed close to the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza.

The rocket fired Tuesday evening landed in an open area near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, located near the Gaza border. The launch set off the Code Red rocket alert, causing the residents of southern Israeli towns near the Gaza border to run for bomb shelters and secure areas. No injuries or damage were reported.

The attack follows several similar ones from Gaza in the past month that are believed to have been fired by Islamic rivals of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that governs Gaza. Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks originating in Gaza.

“Hamas is responsible for depriving worshipers of prayer in Al-Aksa mosque during Ramadan,” Mordechai told Maan. “I am not saying that Hamas fired the missile, but Hamas is responsible because it controls the Gaza Strip.”

Also in response to the rocket attack, the Israeli military said an Israeli airstrike early Wednesday morning hit the rocket launcher in northern Gaza that fired the rocket at Israel.

Obama administration rejects further consideration of U.N. Gaza report

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 05:33

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration said it opposes any Security Council consideration of a United Nations report on last summer’s  Israel-Hamas war.

“We challenge the very mechanism which created it,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said Tuesday, a day after the report’s publication. “And so we’re not going to have a readout of this. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it.

“We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council, a body that Israel and the United States say is biased and targets Israel more than any other country, commissioned the report on the 50 days of fighting in Gaza last July and August.

While the report accused both Israel and Palestinian factions of possible war crimes, its findings focused more on what it considers Israeli wrongdoing in its operation known as Protective Edge.

Kirby’s implicit warning that the United States would use its veto to keep the Security Council from considering the report cuts off one avenue of legal action against Israel.

However, the International Criminal Court, which is affiliated with, but independent of, the United Nations may still take action.

Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel won’t return white supremacist’s donation

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 05:31

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Josh Mandel, the Jewish Ohio treasurer who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012, will not return a campaign donation from a white supremacist.

The Mandel campaign received $1,500 from Earl Holt, the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, in an unsuccessful bid to defeat incumbent Sherrod Brown.

“The money he donated was spent over 2 1/2 years ago, so it cannot be returned,” Mandel’s spokesman, Chris Berry, told the Toledo Blade on Tuesday.

An array of Republican candidates who have received donations from Holt are returning his donations in the wake of reports that the man alleged to have killed nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, was inspired by the group.

Dylann Roof, the 21-year old in custody, is not known to have had any ties with Holt’s group.

Among the Republicans who have returned the funds to Holt or donated their equivalent to a charity, including one in memory of the nine victims, are three presidential candidates: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Appeals court upholds pro-Israel advocacy group’s right to sue IRS

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 05:25

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that a lawsuit challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of Israel-related groups may proceed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 19 ruled against the government’s argument that a 2010 lawsuit by Z Street, a pro-Israel advocacy group, should be dismissed under laws banning suits that seek to prevent tax collection.

It said that Z Street’s claims must instead be assessed against First Amendment speech protections.

“Z Street seeks not to restrain ‘the assessment or collection’ of a tax but rather to obtain relief from unconstitutional delay,” the court said, upholding a 2014 District Court decision to allow the case to proceed.

In its lawsuit, Z Street, which was founded in 2009 in part to counter the influence of the liberal J Street, cited a conversation that its legal counsel had with an IRS agent.

According to the Z Street complaint, the IRS agent had said that applications for tax-exempt status from Israel-related entities are sent to a special unit in Washington to determine whether such organizations’ activities contradict the U.S. administration’s public policies.

IRS officials in court papers have disputed this characterization of the conversation and said it misstates the nature of their policy. The IRS has said that it gives special scrutiny to applicants that could provide resources to organizations in a country, such as Israel, that is at higher risk of terrorism.

Red Cross: Hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner’s life in danger

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 05:15

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A hunger-striking Palestinian inmate in an Israeli prison is at “immediate risk” of death, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Khader Adnan, 37, has been on a hunger strike for 49 days to protest his being held in detention without charge or trial. Other prisoners have since joined the strike.

“We are concerned that his life is at immediate risk,” Jacques de Maio, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in Israel and the occupied territories, said in a statement. “Any solution must, however, take into account the necessity of protecting the detainee’s moral and physical integrity; it should also be kept in mind that under resolutions adopted by the World Medical Association, a detainee is entitled to choose whether to be fed or receive medical treatment. So, it is essential that a detainee’s choice be respected and his or her dignity is preserved.”

The warning comes as the Knesset debates versions of a bill that would allow the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners.

De Maio also called on Israeli authorities to allow Adnan’s family to visit him.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to six months, but the detention can be renewed indefinitely.

It is the second time that Adnan has undertaken a prolonged hunger strike. In 2012, he went on a 66-day strike to protest his administrative detention. Adnan was later released in exchange for ending his hunger strike.

He has been held by Israel since being rearrested nearly a year ago for “activities that threaten regional security.”

Jewish groups sign on to solidarity Shabbat with African-Americans

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 17:32

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A coalition of Jewish groups has declared the coming Shabbat as one of solidarity with the African-American community in the wake of the mass killing at a Charleston church.

In a release Tuesday, umbrella bodies representing the Conservative, Reform, Orthodox and Reconstructionist streams pledged “to speak out in synagogues this coming Shabbat on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism,” and to demonstrate support for African Methodist Episcopal churches in their neighborhoods. Other leading Jewish groups also joined the initiative for Friday night and Saturday.

On June 17, a gunman shot dead nine worshippers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The 21-year-old suspect in the shooting, who is in police custody, is allegedly a white supremacist.

“We stand together as a united American Jewish community in calling for a Shabbat of important introspection and examination of racism in the United States,” Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, said in the statement. “We hope to convey our support to the African-American community nationwide and show all that we will not stand for violent acts driven by hatred.”

Weinblatt, who convened the coalition of groups, also is the president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is part of the initiative.

Joining the call, in addition to umbrella bodies representing the religious streams, are the American Jewish Committee; Hillel, an umbrella body for campus student groups; and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups and Jewish community relations councils.

NYC allocates $1.5 million for impoverished Holocaust survivors

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 16:38

NEW YORK (JTA) — New York City’s 2016 budget includes $1.5 million to assist Holocaust survivors living in poverty.

The $78.5 billion budget finalized Monday night includes more than $25 million for senior services, JP Updates reported. The Survivor Initiative, a 3-year-old group that, according to its website, “seeks to raise awareness and funds to assure survivors live their remaining years in dignity,” pushed for the city to allocate the $1.5 million.

In New York, the group helps fund UJA-Federation of New York’s services for survivors, which include legal services, cash assistance, mental health support, end-of-life care and home care.

According to the Survivor Initiative, approximately half of New York City’s 64,000 Holocaust survivors have an annual income of less than $11,000, and the average age of New York survivors is 83.

Knesset panel votes to discipline Arab-Israeli lawmaker for joining Gaza flotilla

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 16:24

(JTA) — A Knesset committee voted to discipline an Arab-Israeli lawmaker because he is taking part in a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

In a 10-2 vote, the House Committee voted Tuesday to suspend Basel Ghattas, a member of the Arab Joint List party, from participation in all Knesset activities other than voting. Its recommendation will be sent to the Ethics Committee.

On Sunday, Ghattas said that he would board one of three boats in Freedom Flotilla III, whose organizers say they are bringing solar panels and medical equipment to Gaza. Ghattas’ participation sparked a spirited two-hour debate in the Knesset on Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“Freedom of expression is the foundation on which activity in this House is built,” said the committee’s chairman, David Bitan of the Likud Party, who introduced the motion on Ghattas. “Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of it to undermine the state and try to embarrass it time after time before the whole world and cause crises while taken advantage of the fact that he has parliamentary immunity.”

Ghattas did not get the necessary approval from the Ethics Committee for his trip, nor has he disclosed its funding source, Bitan added.

During the meeting, Oren Hazan, a Knesset member with Likud, said that “MKs who have trouble obeying the law should return their [Israeli] ID cards and move to the Palestinian Authority. [The flotilla] goes against the State of Israel. It is an anti-Semitic act. If you don’t like it here, you are welcome to leave.”

The Ship to Gaza organization, which is organizing the flotilla, is calling for an immediate end to the naval blockade of Gaza; opening of the Gaza Port; and secure passage for Palestinians between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The group’s first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in May 2010. A second attempt was turned back in October 2012.

19 Dems urge Kerry to make detained Palestinian children a priority

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 16:03

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Nineteen House Democrats signed a letter urging the Obama administration to make Israel’s treatment of imprisoned Palestinian minors a priority in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The letter, initiated by Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., cites a 2013 UNICEF report on Palestinian children in military detention and notes that Israel has addressed some of the claims in that report.

“This is a positive step and a clear acknowledgement that legitimate human rights concerns exist,” said the letter sent June 19 and made public on Monday.

“Progress to ensure Palestinian children’s rights are not abused is in the interest of the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian people,” the letter said. “We urge the Department of State to elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship with Israel.”

The letter quotes UNICEF as saying that Israel’s military courts do not guarantee the rights of children that come before its judges.

“UNICEF initiated their report in response to concerns regarding the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment of Palestinian children while in the Israeli military detention system,” the letter said.

Israel, a past member of the UNICEF board, said after the release of the initial 2013 report that it “values and respects” the organization and would work to implement the report’s recommendations.

Amnesty International, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and two Quaker organizations, the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, advocated in support of the congressional letter. The groups estimate that Israel’s military detains 700 youths each year.

J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, did not actively advocate for the letter, but signaled support for its signing when the group’s position was solicited by lawmakers.

Ted Cruz’s father: Jews who vote Democrat place Jewishness second

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 16:00

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jews who vote for Democrats place the party before their religion, the father of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said.

“Unfortunately, in the Northeast, the Jews are Democrats first and Jews second,” Rafael Cruz said at an event over the weekend held by the Palm Beach County, Florida, Tea Party first reported by Talking Points Memo. “This is what has happened to a great many in the Catholic Church. They are Democrats first and Catholics second.”

American Jews tend 2-1 to favor Democrats in elections. Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, is a candidate in a large field of Republicans running for the party’s presidential nod.

The elder Cruz, who his son cites as a major influence, was born in Cuba and is an adamant opponent of its Communist regime. Rafael Cruz, who is a pastor, says religious leaders have an obligation to speak out against government oppression, and blames European Christian leaders in part for not standing up for Jews during the Holocaust era.

In his South Florida talk, he said that Jews and Catholics tend to vote more from reflex than from consideration of the issues.

“We need to put principle above tradition,” he said. “There are people voting Democrat because ‘my father or grandfather voted Democrat.’ ”

An official in the Cruz campaign did not return a request for comment. Rafael Cruz is not an official part of the campaign, although the Palm Beach Tea Party touted his appearance as the senator’s father.

The National Jewish Democratic Council condemned Rafael Cruz.

“Jewish Democrats are not Democrats despite being Jewish – we are Democrats because we are Jewish, because of our Jewish values,” the NJDC said in a statement.

The group said that if Cruz disagrees with his father “he should let us know, but to question our religion, our faith or our identity because of our political views is remarkably offensive.”

Cruz is not the first Republican to suggest that Jewish Democrats devalue their religion. U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa conservative, came under fire from the NJDC earlier this year for making similar remarks.

Rocket fired from Gaza lands near kibbutz

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 15:46

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(JTA) — A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in an open area near a kibbutz in southern Israel not far from the Gaza border. No injuries or damages were reported from the rocket, which landed on Tuesday night, setting off alarms in several Israeli towns near northern Gaza, the Times of Israel reported. The attack follows several similar ones from Gaza in the past month, which are believed to have been fired by Islamic rivals of Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that governs Gaza. Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks originating in Gaza. The rocket comes a day after the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes in their Gaza war last summer.

Masorti rips bar mitzvah rite for autistic kids held in Orthodox synagogue

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 14:31

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel slammed a bar mitzvah ceremony held at an Orthodox synagogue for non-Orthodox children with autism.

Sunday’s ceremony in Rehovot was presided over by an Orthodox rabbi that the nine children and their parents did not know, the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel said in a statement.

Masorti professionals who have worked with the children toward their bar mitzvahs were not informed of the ceremony, the statement said. The Torah is not read during services on Sunday by any branch of Judaism.

“What happened, in essence, is that the children, who had all volunteered to be in our program were taken to an unfamiliar synagogue, propped up and posed for a photo-op instead of given a legitimate and respectful bar mitzvah,” said Rabbi Robert Slosberg, the chairman of the Masorti Foundation.

“We were neither invited nor informed of the ceremony. In a situation where all services for children with disabilities are provided by the municipality, Mayor [Rahamim] Malul coerced these parents and their children into participating in a sham bar mitzvah and spat in the face of Masorti Judaism.”

The bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities has been taking place for 20 years in Rehovot under the auspices of the Masorti movement. The celebration was at first to be moved to the president’s residence in Jerusalem after Malul, the central Israeli city’s mayor, canceled the ceremony in April because it would be held at a Conservative synagogue.

The ceremony at the president’s residence was supposed to be co-officiated by one Conservative rabbi, Mike Goldstein, and one Orthodox rabbi, Benny Lau, according to Conservative officials. But an invitation sent out by the President’s Office listed only an Orthodox rabbi.

“With this group of children from Rehovot, the shameful saga and game has ended,” said Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Masorti movement in Israel. “We were hoping for a better ending, but at least the children and their parents are not left ‘hanging’ in the air. We can’t do anything more for them.”

The Masorti movement said an emergency mission to Israel is being planned that will include high-level government meetings to discuss the marginalization of the movement.

JNF creates $100 million Israel advocacy center via landmark gift

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 12:48

(JTA) — The Jewish National Fund has created a $100 million center to advocate for and educate about Israel, saying it “is needed now more than ever.”

The JNF Boruchin Israel Education Advocacy Center announced earlier this month aims to strengthen all Americans’ connections to the land and people of Israel, now and in the future, JNF said in a statement.

The center was founded through an estate gift of John and Dora Boruchin of California — the largest estate donation in JNF history. John Boruchin made his fortune in the United States in real estate, becoming one of the largest tract home builders in California. The couple, who met in Russia following World War II, are survived by their son, Isak.

“The Boruchins wanted JNF to undertake bold initiatives connecting Jewish youth to Zionism and advocating for the Jewish state,” said Mike Lederman, the center’s chairman. “The Boruchin Israel Education Advocacy Center is their living legacy, and their gift comes at a critical period in history as Israel and world Jewry face serious challenges with rising anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. This center is needed now more than ever.”

The center will partner with individuals, foundations and other nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations to match funds on a multi-year basis, according to JNF. It will fund both JNF Zionist advocacy and education programs and non-JNF programs.

John Boruchin, who was born in Poland, lost most of his family in the Holocaust. Dora’s immediate family survived and now live mainly in Canada and the United States.