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Mariah Carey to earn $500,000 for debut Israel gig

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 11:42

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Mariah Carey reportedly will make $500,000 for her first concert in Israel.

Tickets for the American pop star’s August performance in Tel Aviv are going for about $65 and up, TMZ reported, noting that was “pretty affordable for Mariah standards.”

The concert comes less than two months after Carey made her first visit to Israel — with her boyfriend, James Packer, an Australian businessman who reportedly is a friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The couple had a “pre-engagement spiritual meeting” with an unnamed religious leader meant to advise them on whether or not to marry.

Carey, whose 18 No. 1 singles are the most in the history of the Billboard charts, is the resident performer at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Huckabee: Obama leading Israelis to ‘door of the oven’

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 11:33

(JTA) — Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, talking about the Iran nuclear deal, said President Barack Obama will march Israelis “to the door of the oven.”

Huckabee, in an interview Saturday with Breitbart News, evoked Holocaust images of the ovens used to dispose of the bodies of Jews gassed in Nazi concentration camps.

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Calling the deal signed earlier this month by Iran and world powers the “most idiotic thing,” Huckabee said the agreement should be rejected by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, “and by the American people.”

“I read the whole deal,” he said. “We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped.”

The Democratic National Committee took issue with Huckabee’s analogy to the Holocaust, saying such rhetoric “has no place in American politics.”

“Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable,” said the DNC’s chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a statement issued Sunday. “Mike Huckabee must apologize to the Jewish community and to the American people for this grossly irresponsible statement.”

In May, when Huckabee announced he was running for the 2016 presidency, he cast Obama’s foreign policy as not sufficiently protective of Israel’s interests.

“Hell will freeze over before they get a nuclear weapon,” Huckabee said of Iran.

A pastor, Huckabee visits Israel three to four times a year and leads tours there for evangelical Christians.

Louisiana movie theater gunman espoused anti-Semitic ideas

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 08:16

(JTA) — The gunman who went on a deadly shooting spree in a Louisiana movie theater was known as a right-wing extremist who espoused anti-Semitic ideas.

John Russell Houser, 59, expressed support for Hitler, anti-Semitic ideas and white power groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had his name on file since 2005, The Associated Press reported Friday. The center tracks hate groups and the individuals involved in them.

On Thursday, Houser opened fired with a semi-automatic handgun on the audience at a Lafayette theater during a showing of the new film “Trainwreck.” He killed two and injured nine, then took his own life as police closed in on him in the theater complex. Houser reportedly had a history of mental health problems.

The Anti-Defamation League reported Friday that he admired the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn polit­i­cal party, describ­ing it in 2014 as “com­posed of moral peo­ple”; its ideas as “a legit­i­mate effort to solve prob­lems”; and its lead­ers as “intel­li­gent, well spo­ken, and exer­cis­ing good faith.”

Houser also admired extrem­ist groups and move­ments, includ­ing rad­i­cal Islamists, according to the ADL.

“Yes, I am salut­ing the fun­da­men­tal­ist Mus­lims,” he said in Jan­u­ary. “They have stood against evil.” He added in a follow-up post, “They have my com­plete Chris­t­ian respect.”

Houser may have deliberately chosen “Trainwreck,” the ADL said in a statement, because of its star, Amy Schumer, who also wrote the film.

Schumer “has received con­sid­er­able media atten­tion thanks to the movie and her pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show, and, given her cho­sen comedic per­sona of a sex­u­ally free-wheeling woman, as well as her lib­eral opin­ions, one could imag­ine how a dis­turbed mind like Houser’s could come to focus on the movie as a sym­bol for all of his dark fan­tasies about moral decay in America,” the ADL wrote.

Houser had been in Louisiana since early July, staying at a Motel 6 after being evicted from his Alabama home, and had visited the theater several times. He purchased the handgun legally at a pawnshop in Alabama.

Jean-Marie Le Pen must stand trial for gas chamber description

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 07:28

(JTA) — Far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen was summoned to stand trial for denying crimes against humanity.

Le Pen, 87, must appear in a Paris court in the wake of his description of the Nazi gas chambers as “just a detail of World War II,” the French news agency AFP reported Friday, citing a source close to the investigation. The report said the longtime leader of the National Front party was summoned a few weeks ago.

In April, Le Pen told French TV that he does not regret the statement he made in 1987, for which he was convicted of racial hatred and fined.

“Gas chambers were a detail of the war, unless we accept that the war is a detail of the gas chambers,” he told BFM in the spring. “I continue to uphold the view because I think it is the truth and it should not shock anyone. They have exploited this affair against me, implying this is about anti-Semitism. But I defy anyone to quote me on anything anti-Semitic I have said in my political career.”

His daughter Marine Le Pen has sought to gain mainstream acceptance for the National Front, which she now heads, by distancing herself and the anti-immigrant party from her father’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. In May he was suspended from the party, and subsequently disowned his daughter. A French court later quashed his suspension and ordered the party to restore his position as the party’s honorary president.

N.Y. Hasidic teen’s poem about day in her life goes viral

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 06:16

A portion of the poem written by Chanie Gorkin (Screen grab).

(JTA) — A poem by a Hasidic teenage girl from Brooklyn has gone viral on social media.

“Worst Day Ever?” by Chanie Gorkin was first posted last year on the Poetry Nation website, where Gorkin is a member. The poem was published in a collection of poems titled “Beyond the Sea: Odyssey” and put Gorkin, of the Crown Heights neighborhood, in the semifinals of the website’s July to December 2014 contest.

A copy of the poem, about a day in Gorkin’s life, was hung last week on a grocery store bulletin board, photographed and posted online. It was shared and liked thousands of times on social media, according to Poetry Nation.

Several days later Gorkin, an 11th-grader at the all-girls Lubavitch high school Beth Rivkah in Crown Heights, was identified as the author. The poem reportedly was written for a class assignment.

The work sounds pessimistic when read from top to bottom, but the reader is instructed at the end to reread it from the bottom up to find out how Gorkin really felt about her day.

It reportedly has been translated into several languages, including Hebrew, Chinese and Russian.

Gorkin’s mother, Dena, who first shared the poem on her Facebook page without crediting her daughter as the author at the teen’s request, told Poetry Nation that her daughter does not even know yet about the success of her poem since she is at summer camp and does not have access to a computer or the Internet. Dena Gorkin said she was “glad that it’s having a positive effect on people.”

3 Palestinians arrested in Tisha b’Av rioting on Temple Mount

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 05:16

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinians rioted on the Temple Mount for a second straight year on Tisha b’Av.

Four Israel Police officers were lightly injured in the clashes on Sunday morning and three rioters from eastern Jerusalem were arrested. Palestinians threw rocks, firebombs and firecrackers at the officers, the Israel Police said in a statement.

Tisha b’Av is a day of mourning for Jews to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem’s Holy Temples; fasting is part of the observance.

Police went to the Temple Mount after receiving intelligence that the Palestinians had amassed a stockpile of weapons to attack Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall and Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, the police said in its statement. The statement also said the rioters wielded iron bars and sprayed the officers with an unknown liquid.

The officers pushed back at the rioters, who retreated inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, police said. Police then closed the mosque doors with the rioters inside, allowing the Temple Mount visitors to resume their stay.

“We will continue to show zero tolerance for any attempt to disturb public order and undermine the status quo,” the police statement said, adding that the rioters will be arrested and “brought to justice.”

A similar riot occurred last year on Tisha b’Av on the Temple Mount.

Pollard release set for Nov. 21 barring parole board objections

Sat, 07/25/2015 - 08:29

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel, is set to be released on parole on Nov. 21 unless the parole board objects, the U.S. Justice Department said.

A statement emailed to JTA on Saturday noted that Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst, was arrested in 1985 and in 1987 was sentenced to life for espionage.

“Under the laws in place at that time (and which are currently applicable to Pollard), a person with a life sentence is presumptively eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission ‘determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime’,” it said. “Pollard is eligible for mandatory parole in November 2015.”

Nov. 21 marks 30 years since Pollard was first jailed and for years has been listed as his release date.

Until mandatory parole kicks in, the burden is on the prisoner to show why he deserves parole. Pollard’s single application for parole, last year, failed.

As of Nov. 21, however, the burden shifts to the parole commission to show why Pollard does not deserve parole.

Pollard’s chances for release appear to be improved under the criteria by which the parole commission may object to mandatory parole: his behavior in prison and the likelihood he will commit another crime. He reportedly has been a model prisoner and his capacity for additional damage through revelations would be limited 30 years after he lost access to classified information.

The terms under which the commission would object to parole, as outlined in the statement, do not encompass what for years was the main objection to Pollard’s release, cited last year when the parole board turned him down: the seriousness of Pollard’s crime and the breadth of his espionage.

“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 last year. “Given all this information, paroling you at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the offense and promote disrespect for the law.”

The Justice Department statement came after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration was preparing for his release. The Journal suggested that a factor for the Obama administration was its hope that Pollard’s release would smooth relations with Israel.

U.S. officials adamantly denied that was the case.

“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told JTA. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”

Pollard had for years sought presidential commutation of his sentence in part because his movement could still be restricted under parole. It’s not clear whether he would be able to travel immediately to Israel once he is paroled.

The Nov. 21, 2015, release, for years listed by the Bureau of Prisons on its search engine, has been a subject of confusion and controversy. Advocates for Pollard have argued that it did not guarantee release and should not factor into bids to commute his sentence. Others, including some who objected to commutation, argued that Pollard’s release on the date was likely and that he should serve the full 30 years that a life sentence encompassed at the time of his arrest.

U.S. preparing to release Jonathan Pollard: Wall Street Journal

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 15:42

Israelis calling for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard during President Obama’s visit to Jerusalem in 2013. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is preparing to release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the next few months, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pollard may be released in the next few weeks or by Nov. 21, the date he is officially eligible for parole under rules in place when he was sentenced to life in 1987, the Journal reported in an alert on Friday.

The White House referred JTA to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately comment. The campaign to release Pollard had no comment. Pollard, a former analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested in 1985.

The Journal quoted administration officials as saying that they hoped the release would help smooth relations with Israel, fraught in recent weeks because of the nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers. However, it also quoted officials as adamantly saying that Pollard’s release is not related to the Iran deal.

“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told JTA. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”

The Obama administration favors the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal, while Israel says it will leave Iran on the threshold of acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Kerry says Israeli attack on Iran would be ‘enormous’ mistake

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 14:09

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would be an “enormous mistake,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

“That would be an enormous mistake, a huge mistake with grave consequences for Israel and for the region,” Kerry said Friday on NBC’s Today show.

Kerry said a unilateral strike would set back Iran’s nuclear program by at most three years, and would spur Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

“If they bombed them, sure, I presume Iran would then have a reason to say, ‘Well, this is why we need a bomb’,” he said.” And what Iran will decide to do is dig deeper because Israel does not have the ability, nor do we, to stop – unless we went to all-out war and literally annihilated Iran, which I don’t hear people talking about.”

Congress has two months to consider whether to reject the deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers to roll back sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Separately, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations on Friday, Kerry said Israel’s isolation would increase internationally should Congress reject the deal.

“I fear that what could happen is if Congress were to overturn it, our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed, and we would lose Europe and China and Russia with respect to whatever military action we might have to take, because we will have turned our backs on a very legitimate program that allows us to put their program to the test over these next years,” Kerry said.

Kerry revealed that in the talks he made clear that a military strike was an option and that he asked Iran to stop threatening Israel.

“I think the president has made it pretty clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said at the Council on Foreign Relations forum in New York. “He’s prepared to use military force if necessary in order to prevent that. And I will tell you in my conversations with the Iranians, we talked about it pretty directly, and they resent enormously any kind of threat. But I made it crystal clear that we had the capacity, and the president was prepared to use it.”

Asked if he pressed the Iranians to stop calling for the destruction of Israel, Kerry said he did.

“I also told them that their chants of ‘Death to America’ and so forth are neither helpful and they’re pretty stupid,” he said.

Kerry on Friday also addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York.

The over 100 Jewish leaders in attendance “raised questions about provisions to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program as well as concerns regarding Iran’s violations of human rights, its ballistic missile development program, ongoing threats against Israel, and expanding support for terrorist organizations,” a Conference release said.

British trade union boots pro-Israel stand after harassment by opponents

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 10:28

(JTA) — Organizers of a trade union festival in Britain asked pro-Israel activists to leave and pack up their stand following harassment by supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Members of the Bournemouth Action for Israel (BAFI) grassroots group claimed that their kiosk was defaced and they were verbally abused by Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ festival last weekend in Bournemouth, The Jewish Chronicle of London reported Tuesday.

Owen Tudor, head of European Union and international relations at Britain’s Trades Union Congress, or TUC, confirmed that festival organizers asked the pro-Israel stallholders “not to return for a second day” after “careful consultation and with due consideration given to our duty of care.”

PSC has been represented at the annual festival for years, but last week was the first time BAFI attended.

Tudor was responding to a letter sent by Shimon Samuels, director of international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to Frances O’Grady, general secretary of TUC, which is responsible for the festival. Samuels complained that festival organizers failed to call police. But Owen wrote that BAFI staff “asked the police to attend, but they declined.”

Holocaust survivor Henry Schachter, a co-founder of BAFI, recalled: “We knew that it was likely to be an unwelcoming event,” adding, “They moved towards us from the PSC stand shouting and screaming. It was very intimidating,” in reference to the PSC activists. The group’s pro-Israel leaflets were thrown from the table, according to the report.

Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote in his letter to O’Grady that this incident stained the festival’s reputation.

O’Grady did not reply but appeared dismissive of the letter.

“Here we go. I suggest Owen drafts a response in his name, given his experience of handling such campaigns, in line with the prepared media lines. My advice is ‘less is more’,” she wrote in internal correspondence that was later sent, apparently inadvertently, attached to Tudor’s reaction.

Last year, a majority of TUC delegates passed a non-binding resolution supporting a boycott of Israel.

U.S. Jews much likelier to back Iran deal than non-Jews – poll

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 06:50

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A poll showed American Jews are much likelier than non-Jews to back the Iran nuclear deal.

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal poll published Thursday shows 49 percent of American Jews support the deal and 31 percent oppose it. Among all Americans, 28 percent support the deal and 24 percent oppose it.

Similarly, 53 percent of Jewish Americans polled want Congress to allow the deal to go ahead, while 35 percent want Congress to stop the deal. Among all Americans, the numbers are 41 percent wanting Congress to allow the deal and 38 percent supporting Congress should it kill the deal.

Congress has two months to consider whether to exercise its power to disapprove of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and the major powers, including the United States.

The poll by SSRS was conducted by phone between July 16 and July 20. It canvassed 505 non-Jews and 501 Jews. SSRS did not give a margin of error.

Romania outlaws Holocaust denial

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 06:42

(JTA) — The World Jewish Congress praised Romanian President Klaus Iohannis for enacting a law that makes it illegal to deny the Holocaust.

“We congratulate President Iohannis for his strong stand against fascism, anti-Semitism and racism,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement Thursday, after Iohannis signed into law legislation passed recently by Romania’s parliament. “Only by fighting Holocaust denial and fascism at the highest levels can a nation effectively counter the troubling spread of anti-Semitism across Europe,” said Lauder.

The law, which is now part of Romania’s penal code, punishes Holocaust denial and the promotion of the fascist Legionnaires’ Movement with prison sentences of up to three years.

“We urge other European leaders to show the same kind of bold leadership and send a clear message: that fascists and Holocaust deniers are not only committing morally reprehensible acts, but also crimes punishable by law,” Lauder said.

The failures to restitute Jewish property and persistent Holocaust denial, even in academia and the government, have tarnished the country’s reputation. In 2012, a politician who denied that Jews had suffered in Romania during the Holocaust was appointed to a ministerial post despite protests by Jewish groups. The politician, Dan Sova, later apologized and said his statement was the result of ignorance.

A few months later, a Romanian member of the European Parliament denied the Holocaust on television. The following year, a prominent historian said it was a “huge lie” that large numbers of Jews were killed in areas under Romanian control during the Holocaust, leading to his dismissal from a teaching post at a German university.

“Most Romanians believe the Holocaust happened, but many still think Romanians did not perpetrate it” in Romania, Liviu Rotman, a historian at the University of Bucharest, told JTA. “To them it was the Hungarians or the Germans, but never Romanians, despite a wealth of evidence.”

Israeli Arabs’ access to Gaza to be limited

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 06:39

(JTA) — Access to the Gaza Strip for Israeli Arabs will be limited because of safety concerns, an Israeli general said.

Yoav Poli Mordechai, the Israel Defense Forces coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories, announced the new policy Thursday, Army Radio reported, quoting him as saying that “Hamas may use the link to Gaza that some Arab Israelis have” to further its goals.

He noted that one of two Israelis believed to be in Hamas captivity is an Arab from a Bedouin community.

“There is fear for the lives of those who enter”  the Gaza Strip, Mordechai said.

Earlier this month, a gag order on the suspected detention of an Ethiopian Israeli and the missing Bedouin man in Gaza was lifted. The Ethiopian Israeli, Avraham Mengistu, and the Bedouin, whose name was not released to the media in keeping with the family’s request, are believed to have been in Hamas’ hands for months, although the Islamist group denies this.

Thousands of Arab Israelis with families in the West Bank cross the borders between Israel and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas every month. The number of crossings into Gaza decreased drastically to hundreds a month since Hamas’ takeover of the territory in 2007. This dropped further after the 2009 war between Israel and Hamas, and currently only a few dozen cross over each month, according to Army Radio.

Placard criticizing Netanyahu removed from soldier’s grave

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 06:04

(JTA) — A placard critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was removed from the Jerusalem grave of a soldier who was killed while fighting in Gaza.

The placard, which was removed Thursday from the grave of Leet Matt, read: “Lillik died on the watch of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bibi, and of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Bogie.”

In a statement to the news site nrg.co.il, a Defense Ministry spokesperson on Friday said that the sign was removed following complaints by visitors to the cemetery. A guitar and a surfboard that were placed by the family near the grave were also removed.

Signs carrying political or partisan messages are not allowed in military cemeteries, the spokesperson added.

Motti Matt, Lee Matt’s father, accused the ministry of “coming like thieves in the night”  to take the objects. “They should be ashamed of themselves; they are bullying the dead.”

The Matt family wants military authorities to allow it to place the names of siblings of Lee Matt on his headstone at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery as a symbol of their devotion to their brother. The family says the inscription is permitted under recent laws allowing personal messages on military headstones, while the military says it is not.

Because of the ministry’s refusal to add the siblings’  names, the Matt family declined to place any headstone at the grave. They put the placard in its place.

Staff Sgt Lee Matt, a 19-year-old Paratroopers Brigade soldier from Eilat, died last year during Israel’s Protective Edge offensive on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Obama: Iran will fund Hezbollah with or without sanctions

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 05:54

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama said that Iran is determined to finance the Hezbollah even under sanctions.

Obama was asked in a BBC interview posted Friday about critics of the Iran nuclear deal who said that the regime will accelerate its troublemaking in the region once sanctions free up $100-150 billion.

“The challenge that we’ve had, when it comes to Hezbollah, for example, aiming rockets into Israel, is not a shortage of resources,” Obama said in the interview about the possibility that funds made available to to Tehran because of the deal would go to Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has predicted a ramping up of Iran-backed hostilities as a result of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers led by the United States.

“Iran has shown itself to be willing, even in the midst of real hardship, to fund what they consider to be strategy priorities,” Obama said. “The challenge is us making sure that we’ve got the interdiction capacity, the intelligence, that we are building a much stronger defense against some of these proxy wars and asymmetric efforts. And we’ve sent a clear message to the Iranians. We are settling the Iran deal, but we still have a big account that we’re going to have to work. Hopefully some of it diplomatically, if necessary some of it militarily.”

On Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Obama said: “Keep in mind, first of all, we’ve shut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which was priority number one. Because if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb.”

Netanyahu and his Cabinet ministers maintain the deal legitimizes Iran’s suspected progress toward obtaining nuclear weapons by allowing it to reach a threshold from which it can rapidly go nuclear with too little time for the international community to stop it.

White House officials say the deal is the best way of blocking Iran’s path to the bomb or slowing down its progress.

To thwart the deal, its Republican detractors would have to attract enough Democrats to their side to vote it down with a two-third majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. In the interview, Obama said he was confident his administration had the support it needed for the deal in Congress.

A trio of Obama Cabinet members, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, on Thursday defended the deal to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With the exception of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Democrats appeared to be supportive. Republicans said the deal was a scam, with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) telling Kerry, “I believe you’ve been fleeced.”

Mikvah-peeping rabbi’s Washington shul hires interim replacement

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 15:43

(JTA) — The Washington, D.C., synagogue whose longtime rabbi was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison for voyeurism has hired a part-time replacement on an interim basis.

Rabbi Avidan Milevsky will begin work on July 27, Kesher Israel’s president announced in an email to congregants Thursday. The Orthodox congregation has been without a paid spiritual leader since Rabbi Barry Freundel was arrested last October and charged with using hidden video cameras to spy on women using the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath.

Milevsky, an associate professor of psychology and psychotherapist, is the former interim rabbi of Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Congregation in Baltimore and has served as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“His research on families, well-being, and spirituality in psychotherapy has produced an impressive body of work including 5 books,” the email from Elanit Jakabovics said. “He studied at yeshivot in Israel, at Telz Yeshiva in Chicago, and at Yeshiva Ve’kollel Ramach in Miami where he received rabbinic ordination from the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Yochanan Zweig. This unique combination of rabbinical and psychological work will serve our community well as we move forward.”

In the months since Freundel’s arrest, according to the email, the congregation has relied on two volunteers — Rabbi Kenneth Brander and Yoetzet Halakha Nechama Price — for answering members’ religious questions and providing pastoral care.

“Both Rabbi Brander and Nechama Price provided much needed counseling in the wake of the crisis we faced,” the president’s email said.

“As we turn the page to Kesher’s next chapter, we know that despite our best efforts to move forward, many of our community members are still in pain and in need of healing. The Board hopes that the hiring of Rabbi Milevsky as our part-time interim rabbi will provide our community with the spiritual guidance that we need as an Orthodox shul, while leaving open the space needed for us to explore what it is that we would seek in a new permanent Rabbi.”

Former Hasid shared anti-Hasidic Judaism essay a week before killing herself

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 14:50

Faigy Mayer seen in a photo from March 26, 2015. (Facebook)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Faigy Mayer, an ex-Hasid who leapt to her death, had recently shared with a friend “the first draft of an opinion article” outlining her problems with Hasidic Judaism.

Mayer’s friend Chaim Levin shared the 1,500-word draft with the media on Tuesday, one day after Mayer, 30, jumped from a rooftop bar in Manhattan. The draft was published Thursday in Tablet and other outlets.

Mayer opened the essay by detailing her difficulty making friends as a child, writing that “until I left the religion of Hasidic Judaism at the age of 24, I would not have any friends.”

The piece, which uses adjectives like “austere” and “harsh” to describe Hasidic life, argued that Hasidic boys are “subjected to the torture of learning Yiddish all day” and recalled her skepticism while attending a required class on the laws of kashrut.

“Without knowing I was agnostic, I refused to study rules that were clearly not applicable to 2001,” she wrote.

Mayer argued that “Hasidic Judaism shouldn’t exist at all,” and that “it is not fair” to her three nephews that they are being raised subject to the community’s strict rules.

“Basic joys that American kids get on a daily basis my nephews don’t have,” she wrote. “Instead, they have long hours at a Cheder, which is a boys’ school, where they are forced to sit in one place and study Jewish laws and history with ZERO time for sports.”

The Internet, Mayer theorized, will eventually eliminate Hasidic Judaism because as applying for basic government services requires online access, Hasidic individuals will have to go online, where they might be exposed to new ideas.

“IF PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO THINK, THEY WOULD NOT BE RELIGIOUS,” she wrote.

Mayer concluded: “Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with, 5 years after leaving.”

Study finds growing criticism of Israel among Diaspora Jewry

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 11:40

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Diaspora Jewry is increasingly critical of Israel and young Diaspora Jews are growing more alienated from the Jewish state, a new study found.

The study, released this week by the Jewish People Policy Institute, an influential think tank based in Jerusalem, comes a year after Israel’s war in Gaza. Titled “Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflict: Perspectives from World Jewry,” the report looks at how non-Israeli Jews view Israeli military actions and how Diaspora Jews should respond.

Diaspora Jews tend to support and understand the military actions, the study found, but also “doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.” The study added that “few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one,” particularly among younger Jews.

Israel’s military actions affect them, Diaspora Jews said, whether exposing them to physical attacks or changing their interactions with non-Jews. The study said that many Jews feel uncomfortable with being forced to serve as “ambassadors” for Israel.

Because of the effect that Israel’s actions have on their lives, according to the study, Diaspora Jews said they want Israel to consult Diaspora Jewry on sensitive issues.

The study was based on discussion groups with Diaspora Jews, as well as questionnaires and survey analysis.

Jewish tech billionaire gives $100M to Stephen Hawking’s search for aliens

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 08:29

Yuri Milner, left, and Stephen Hawking attending a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives, July 20, 2015, in London, England. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

(JTA) — A Jewish-Russian tech billionaire is teaming up with renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to launch an unprecedented search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Yuri Milner, an investor in tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Spotify, is dedicating $100 million to the 10-year project, called the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, according to the French news agency AFP. The initiative will use powerful telescopes to scan the stars, reaching farther than previous methods employing radio signals or lasers.

The project will be 50 times more sensitive than previous attempts and scan 10 times more area, according to AFP. Milner said the project will take the search for aliens to “a completely new level.”

But Hawking warned that dangers come along with the project: If a civilization is far more developed than the Earth’s, it may view humans as unevolved and of no value.

“A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead,” Hawking said, according to AFP. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

House used to hide Jews declared Polish national monument

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 08:02

(JTA) — A house where a Jewish family hid to escape the Holocaust has been declared a Polish national monument.

The house remained unrecognized as a Jewish hideout for 70 years, according to Reuters. It belonged to two families who shared a farm and hid the Jews in their cellar. Ten members of the two Polish families were executed by the Nazis in 1942 for refusing to reveal the Jewish family’s whereabouts. The family members were herded into a barn that was set on fire.

The incident led the surviving family members to keep the hideout a secret, fearing the reaction of neighbors who may have been the ones to betray them to the Nazis during the war.

The site was discovered by the From the Depths Foundation, which promotes Holocaust remembrance and helped register the hideout as a national monument, which occurred Thursday.

“This site isn’t just important for Jews, this is important for humanity,” Jonny Daniels, president of the From the Depths Foundation, told Reuters. “Who would believe that one person would risk and end up giving their lives to try and help another? I wouldn’t. I couldn’t imagine myself risking my family to try and save somebody else, even a friend or a neighbor.”

The Jewish family that hid in the cellar has not been identified.