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Menendez second Senate Dem to come out against Iran deal

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 13:55

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) announcing at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey that he will not support the Iran deal on August 18, 2015. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(JTA) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey became the second Senate Democrat to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

The announcement by Menendez, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came Tuesday during a speech at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.

Charles Schumer of New York was the first Senate Democrat to announce his opposition to the agreement, which lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, on Aug. 6.

Menendez said the deal would enable Iran to become “flush with money,” which it could use “to further pursue their destabilizing hegemonic goals in the region,” NBC News reported.

“We want the right deal, and a deal that does nothing more than delay the inevitable is not a deal we are willing to make,” Menendez added.

While most Republicans are against the deal, negotiated between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, Democrats have mostly supported it.

Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the agreement. President Barack Obama has pledged to veto a rejection.

Goldie Steinberg, reportedly the world’s oldest Jewish person, dies at 114

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 08:37

Goldie Steinberg celebrating her 112th birthday in Long Beach, New York, on Jan. 13, 2013. (Screenshot: YouTube)

(JTA) — Goldie Steinberg, reportedly the world’s oldest known Jewish person, died at age 114.

Steinberg, according to Chabad.org, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s news site, died Sunday at the Grandell Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Long Beach, New York. She was two months away from her 115th birthday.

Steinberg was born in 1900, one of eight siblings. As a child, she survived the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, in what is now Moldova, in which 49 Jews died and 500 were injured over two days.

In 1923, she moved to the United States. Steinberg lived in New York City, where she married and had two children. She worked as a seamstress until retiring at age 80, and lived independently until age 104.

“My grandmother’s life — surviving the pogroms, losing siblings in the Holocaust — it was a history lesson,” said Peter Kutner, Steinberg’s grandson, according to Chabad.org. “She was a very selfless person; she always thought of others.”

Steinberg is survived by her two children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Israel’s Diaspora Ministry to examine groups with Jewish roots

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 05:08

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel’s Diaspora Ministry is establishing a committee to develop relations with groups that have Jewish ancestry or ties.

Such groups include the Bnei Menashe, a community from eastern India that practices Judaism and has seen thousands of its members move to Israel and convert to Orthodox Judaism. Other groups with Jewish ancestry exist in Poland, Spain, South America and elsewhere.

The committee, according to a Monday announcement, will examine whether the ministry should create policies regarding these groups.

“Over the past few years there has been an increasing awareness of large groups of people who are not Jewish by any definition but who have some type of connection to the Jewish people.” said Dvir Kahana, director general of the Diaspora Ministry, in a news release. “Some of these groups want some kind of association with the Jewish people and/or Israel, which raises the question of what ties the government should have with them.”

The committee includes Benjamin Ish-Shalom, chairman of Israel’s Joint Conversion Institute. It will submit its recommendations next year.

Israeli archaeological exhibit to be part of new Museum of the Bible

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 03:32

(JTA) — The Museum of the Bible, set to open in Washington, D.C., in 2017, will house a large collection from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The authority, which oversees archaeological digs in Israel, will have a 4,000 square-foot exhibit space in the museum to show pieces from its collection of 2 million artifacts. The exhibit will be part of a space of 20,000 square feet dedicated to visiting collections.

“The Israel Antiquities Authority is thrilled and proud to partner with the Museum of the Bible on this landmark project,” said Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a news release Tuesday announcing the exhibition. “Making the archaeological heritage of the Land of Israel and the vital archaeological work conducted by the IAA available and accessible to people around the world is our mission.”

In tandem, the Museum of the Bible is supervising an archaeological dig at Tel Shimron, a large excavation site in northern Israel.

The Museum of the Bible’s collection will comprise 40,000 objects, including cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls and rare printed Bibles. The museum’s board chairman is Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain that won the right in court last year not to provide contraception as part of employees’ health care plans due to religious objections.

Matisyahu calls festival cancellation ‘appalling and offensive’

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:26

(JTA) — American Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu spoke out against the organizers of a Spanish festival that canceled his performance because he refused to endorse Palestinian statehood.

On his Facebook page Monday, a day after festival organizers announced that he was no longer invited to perform there, Matisyahu said the festival organizers had asked him “to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people.” However, he wrote, “My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music.”

Matisyahu, who for many years was a Hasidic Jew, added that he felt “pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda.”

“Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements,” he added. “Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc, my goal is to play music for all people.”

Matisyahu was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain called the cancellation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.” The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the federation said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances in the festival unless Matisyahu made a declaration.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

Second San Antonio synagogue vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:18

(JTA) — A San Antonio synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti less than a week after another city synagogue and its neighborhood were similarly attacked.

A maintenance worker at Congregation Agudas Achim, the Texas city’s second-largest synagogue, discovered graffiti on a storage shed near the back of the synagogue’s property on Monday morning, MySanAntonio.com reported.

Linda Moad, executive director of the Conservative congregation, said the employee found two grills missing along with the words “Jew Jew” sprayed onto the structure.

The previous Wednesday, anti-Semitic graffiti was found spray-painted on Congregation Rodfei Sholom along with some 30 cars and buildings in the neighborhood of the Orthodox synagogue, according to MySanAntonio. The graffiti included swastikas and references to the Ku Klux Klan, and at least one car’s side window was smashed in with a rock.

“I was already disgusted by what happened at Rodfei Sholom last week,” Agudas Achim’s rabbi, Jeffrey Abraham, told MySanAntonio.com. “This hits a little closer to home because it’s at my synagogue. I am just saddened that people would stoop to this level to try to break our community.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott condemned the vandalism in a statement Monday, calling it an “offensive and disturbing attack on people of all faiths.”

Also Monday, the San Antonio Police Department, FBI, Crime Stoppers and local elected officials announced an award of $11,500 for information leading to the Rodfei Sholom vandals.

“We’re very sad that this would happen so soon after the incident at Rodfei Sholom,” said Judy Lackritz, the community relations director for the Jewish Federation of San Antonio. “We appreciate that law enforcement are taking it seriously in both cases. We are so heartened at the outpouring of support we have received throughout the city from all different religious groups.”

Last week, the FBI said it had identified a person of interest who lives near the community, but on Monday, at the event where the reward was announced, police said no arrests have been made and that they are pursuing multiple suspects.

Rodfei Sholom’s rabbi, Arnold Scheinberg, said his congregation saw overwhelming attendance on Shabbat.

“Our congregation experienced a hate crime, but our community experienced love and support from every facet of our community,” he said, according to MySanAntonio.com.

Scheinberg said security at the synagogue has been enhanced but did not provide details.

Netanyahu denies reported negotiations with Hamas

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 13:44

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office denied reports that Israel has been negotiating with Hamas.

A statement from his office Monday was in response to media reports claiming that direct talks took place recently and were in their final stages.

“Israel officially clarifies that there have been no meetings with Hamas. Not directly, not through another country and not through intermediaries,” the statement said, the Times of Israel reported.

Hours earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that direct talks between Israel and Hamas took place recently in an African country. The same day, Haaretz quoted a Turkish official saying that Israel and Hamas are in the final stages of negotiating a long-term truce that would end Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza in exchange for an end to Hamas attacks on Israel.

Based on Arabic-language news sources, Israeli newspapers had reported that the agreement has been approved by the Shura Council, Hamas’ legislative body, and that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is mediating the accord, with Hamas negotiating in partnership with Turkey and Qatar.

Family of Ethiopian-Israeli believed held by Hamas rallies for his release

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 13:39

(JTA) — The family of an Ethiopian Israeli believed to be imprisoned in Gaza by Hamas rallied on his behalf outside an Israeli prison where Palestinian prisoners are held.

The rally Monday outside the Hadarim Detention Center was the first on behalf of Avera Mengistu, 29, whose family says he is mentally ill. Approximately two dozen demonstrators demanded that Hamas release Mengistu, who crossed the border into Gaza in September by climbing over a barrier. His disappearance was not made public until July, when a court-imposed gag order was lifted. He is one of two Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas. The other, a Bedouin, has not been publicly identified.

The rally was deliberately held on a Monday, the day that relatives of Palestinian prisoners are allowed to visit. Activists held signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding the Palestinians send a message to Hamas to release Mengistu, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Speaking to the families of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel, Mengistu’s brother Ilan said that “while you are visiting your loved ones in Israel, Avera Mengistu, an innocent 29-year-old civilian, is being held in Gaza. Despite the fact that he is not well and was never a soldier, Hamas continues to keep him captive and refuses to release him or give any information on his whereabouts.”

Members of the Mengistu family said hundreds of supporters had sought to join the protest at the prison, but the police had limited the crowd to 26 demonstrators, according to Haaretz.

Hamas has provided no information about the condition of Mengistu or the Bedouin man, nor has it said it is holding them.

Palestinian hunger striker rejects conditional release offer

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 11:47

(JTA) — An Arab-Israeli Knesset member who is representing Palestinian hunger striker Mohammad Allaan rejected Israel’s offer that Allaan be released on condition that he leave the country for four years.

Mohammed Jabareen of the Joint Arab List party said Monday that Israel’s offer “proves Allaan isn’t really dangerous.”

Allaan is on the 62nd day of a hunger strike protesting his being held without charges in administrative detention since last November on suspicion of membership in the terrorist group Islamic Jihad.

“If he can direct terror activity once released, he can do the same from abroad,” said Jabareen, an attorney. “He should be released immediately so that his torture ends.”

Allaan lost consciousness on Friday, but doctors at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where he is hospitalized, managed to stabilize his condition, according to The Times of Israel.

His hunger strike prompted Israel to pass legislation last month permitting force-feeding. The Israeli Medical Association has announced that it plans to challenge the law in the Supreme Court and urged physicians not to comply with it.

Jury selection begins in Kansas City shooter trial

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 10:51

(JTA) — Jury selection began in the trial of the white supremacist who has admitted to killing three people outside two Jewish facilities in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas.

The trial of Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., who is representing himself, began Monday, The Associated Press reported. Jury selection is expected to last a week.

Miller, 74, shot two people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas, and one person outside Village Shalom, a Jewish assisted-living facility.

During an appearance in U.S. District Court in Johnson City, Kansas, last month, Miller said he would argue that he committed the April 13, 2014, attacks in order to stop “the Jewish genocide of the white race.”

Miller, a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon who also goes by Frazier Glenn Cross, is charged with capital murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

Miller told the Kansas City Star last month that he began planning the attacks when he became so sick with emphysema that he thought he would die soon and that he conducted reconnaissance missions of the JCC and Village Shalom in the days before the shootings.

“I wanted to make damned sure I killed some Jews or attacked the Jews before I died,” he told the newspaper. None of his three victims were Jewish.

340 U.S. rabbis sign letter supporting Iran deal

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 10:30

(JTA) — In a letter to Congress, 340 U.S. rabbis from the major streams of Judaism expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal.

The letter sent Monday urges the House of Representatives and Senate to endorse the agreement, in which sanctions are lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Noting that “we are deeply concerned with the impression that the leadership of the American Jewish community is united in opposition to the agreement,” the letter states, “We, along with many other Jewish leaders, fully support this historic nuclear accord.”

In a news release issued by Ameinu, a liberal Zionist organization, one of the letter’s signatories, Rabbi Steven Bob of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, said, “We commend the U.S. and the other negotiating teams for their dedication to reaching an agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  This deal is good for the United States and our allies in the region, and is the best arrangement possible given current international realities.”

Rabbi Samuel Gordon of Wilmette, Illinois, said in the news release that if Congress rejects the deal, “the consequences for the United States, Israel, the Jewish community and the world will be significant.”

“We fear that the outcome will be the collapse of the international sanctions regime, an Iranian race for nuclear weapons and an associated arms race in the Middle East and isolation of Israel and the United States from international partners,” Gordon said.

Numerous American Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, have publicly opposed the Iran deal negotiated between Iran and six major powers. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is lobbying the Congress to reject the deal and has spent millions of dollars in its campaign.

Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the deal. President Barack Obama is campaigning for the deal, while the Republicans mostly oppose the deal.

Among the rabbis signing the letter are Burton Visotzky, a professor at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary; Sharon Brous of Ikar, a large congregation in Los Angeles; Lawrence Kushner, the author of more than 18 books on Judaism; Sharon Kleinbaum, the longtime rabbi of the largest LGBT synagogue in North America; Nina Beth Cardin, an author and Jewish environmental activist; and Amy Eilberg, the first woman rabbi ordained by the Conservative movement.

The full letter and its signatories can be found here.

Renovating Jewish sites, India urges Israeli-Indian Jews to visit

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 07:35

(JTA) — Indian officials are urging the tens of thousands of Indian Jews living in Israel to visit their home country.

To encourage Jewish and Israeli tourism in India, the Indian government has funded the renovation of the country’s Jewish heritage sites, according to the Times of India. The government recently renovated the Paravoor and Chennamangalam synagogues in Cochin, in southern India. Some 25,000 Cochin Jews live in Israel among 85,000 total Indian-Israelis.

“We want to tell the world proudly about the rich Jewish life in India,” Indian Ambassador to Israel Jaideep Sarkar said at the National Convention of Indian Jews in Israel last week, according to the Times of India. “With your efforts we are working to preserve the Jewish heritage in India. We hope to have a package tour to Jewish heritage sites in Mumbai and elsewhere by early next year.”

Later this year, Narendra Modi plans to be the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel.

British Labor Party to investigate anti-Semitic messages to lawmakers

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 07:13

(JTA) — Britain’s Labor Party said it will launch an investigation after some of its members received anti-Semitic messages for opposing a candidate for party leadership.

Labor lawmaker John Mann, who chairs the the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, has received dozens of anti-Semitic emails and tweets during the past six weeks, according to the Jewish Chronicle. Mann is a vocal opponent of Jeremy Corbyn, a member of Parliament running for the leadership of the Labor Party who has referred to anti-Israel terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends.”

The Chronicle reported that Mann received messages calling him “utter filth” and a “Zionist stooge.” Mann said other Labor parliamentarians have received similar messages.

“I have very serious concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters,” Mann told the British Sunday Express, according to the Chronicle. “I’ve received some vicious anti-Semitic abuse and I’m expecting the Labour Party to take action against this.”

Terror victims, Arab Bank reach settlement

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 06:38

(JTA) — Arab Bank reached a legal settlement with victims of Palestinian terrorism who had sued the bank for helping finance the terrorist activity.

The settlement with the Jordanian bank, which has branches in the West Bank and Gaza, came days before the trial was set to enter its damages phase in federal court in Brooklyn, The Associated Press reported. The details were not disclosed.

In the trial, 300 victims of terrorism during the second intifada in the early 2000s sued the bank, which was accused of helping Hamas create a “death and dismemberment benefit plan” for terrorists. The suit was first filed in 2004.

According to AP, the case was the first time a bank had been tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of attacks by U.S.-designated terrorist organizations to seek damages. The United States defines Hamas as a terror group.

Israeli border policeman stabbed in West Bank, assailant killed

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 06:19

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The assailant who stabbed an Israeli border policeman in the West Bank was shot and killed.

The policeman was lightly injured in the attack Monday at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank.

The assailant, who has not been named, asked the border policeman for a cup of water, then stabbed the officer when he turned around, according to Israeli authorities. Another officer shot and killed the attacker.

The stabbing follows two similar attacks on Saturday. In the second of the attacks, on Saturday afternoon, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli border policeman in the back during a routine security check in the northern West Bank, Israeli authorities said. The soldier was lightly wounded and taken to the hospital. The 16-year-old assailant was shot and died of his wounds.

That morning, a Palestinian stabbed a soldier who had turned around to get him the cup of water he had requested, the authorities said. The soldier was lightly wounded in the knife attack on a road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The assailant, 19, was shot and wounded.

Huckabee coming to Israel to fundraise, talk Iran

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 05:19

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is coming to Israel to raise campaign funds and discuss the Iran nuclear deal.

The former Arkansas governor will arrive in Israel on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. A spokesman said the trip would be “brief” and did not provide further details. Huckabee is a frequent visitor to Israel, coming multiple times a year.

Announcing the trip Sunday on CNN, Huckabee said Iran is “not to be trusted.”

“We’re being pushed to get into a deal that gives us nothing, but gives the Iranians the capacity to ultimately end up with a nuclear weapon, and that’s just insane,” Huckabee said, according to AP. The other Republican candidates also oppose the agreement reached last month between six world powers, led by the United States, and Iran.

Last month, Huckabee drew widespread criticism for saying that through the Iran agreement, President Barack Obama will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

The deal lifts international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs and inspections on Iran’s nuclear program.

Hamas, Israel reportedly negotiating long-term accord

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 04:37

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel and Hamas reportedly are negotiating a long-term deal that would end Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in exchange for an end to Hamas attacks on Israel.

Based on Arabic-language news sources, Israeli papers are reporting that negotiations on the agreement are in their final stages, and that the agreement has been approved by the Shura Council, Hamas’ legislative body. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is mediating the accord, and Hamas is negotiating it in partnership with Turkey and Qatar.

The agreement reportedly would include the construction of a port in the Gaza Strip. En route to Gaza, ships would pass through another port in Cyprus, where they would be examined by either Turkish or NATO authorities. According to the Times of Israel, the agreement also would include permits for thousands of Gazan day laborers to work in Israel. In exchange, Hamas would commit to ceasing all rocket attacks and tunneling into Israel.

Negotiations received encouragement recently from Saudi Arabia, which aims to create a broad, Sunni-based alliance to counter Iran’s regional ambitions, according to Haaretz. The same newspaper reported that the Israel-Hamas agreement would improve Israel’s ties with Turkey, which deteriorated after nine Turks were killed when the Israel Defense Forces stormed a Turkish boat aimed at breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in 2010.

Ukrainian Jewish summer camp relocated due to war

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 13:14

(JTA) — Citing ongoing fighting in Ukraine, a Kiev-based Jewish organization transferred its summer camp for young Jews to the Caucasus nation of Georgia.

The Midrasha Zionit, or Zionist Seminary, sent approximately 140 participants of the group’s Tchelet camp to a resort in Lake Bazaleti. The move was “a response and adaptation to the difficult situation in Ukraine,” Asher Gold, a Midrasha spokesman, told JTA.

Tchelet, which has served approximately 2,500 campers, has two age groups: teens and young adults under 30. Most participants are Russian speakers from Ukraine, Russia and Israel. Some 720 Tcheelt participants have immigrated to Israel, organizers said, adding that they know of 23 couples who met at the camp.

The camp has been active since 2008. For the Ukrainian campers, Gold said, “This is also a chance to have them go abroad for a little while and catch some fresh wind.”

Russian-backed separatists have been fighting government troops in Ukraine’s east since March 2014, when the secessionists established two enclaves around Donetsk and Lugansk. The crisis, which occurred after a bloody revolution in Ukraine, severely damaged the country’s economy and sent the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, into a nosedive that halved its pre-revolution value.

Jewish groups have spent millions in emergency funding on helping Jewish refugees through the crisis. Among other actions, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee this summer helped several dozen children from the battle zones attend the Szarvas summer camp in Hungary, which the JDC has been operating for 26 years 100 miles east of Budapest.

After all-night wait, Women of the Wall pray with Torah scroll

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 08:08

(JTA) — Women of the Wall prayed with a Torah scroll after bringing one to the Western Wall plaza the previous evening and keeping it there all night.

Western Wall regulations bar women from bringing a Torah scroll to the Wall. To circumvent the regulation, Women of the Wall said in a news release that members brought in the scroll at 7 p.m. Saturday, 12 hours ahead of the next morning’s morning service — the group’s monthly morning prayer service. The members stayed with the scroll all night.

The group said in the news release that it successfully appealed to the Jerusalem chief of police when asked to remove the scroll.

In the past, the group has smuggled a mini-Torah scroll into the women’s section. During another service, male supporters of the group hoisted a scroll over the divider between the men’s and women’s sections, encountering violent opposition.

Survey: Hebrew U. rises to 67th best in world

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 07:47

TEL AVIV (JTA) — The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the 67th best university in the world, according to an annual ranking, while the Technion in Haifa placed 77th.

Published by the ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, the Academic Ranking of World Universities bumped up Hebrew University three notches from its 2014 ranking, while the Technion moved up one spot.

The top four universities, identical to last year’s listing, were Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

Hebrew University and the Technion were named the first- and second-best universities in Israel. Four other Israeli schools placed in the top 500 overall: the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Tel Aviv, Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion universities.

In the global ranking, Hebrew University tied with Ohio State University, while the Technion came in just below Brown University.