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Advocacy group: Municipal conversion courts still awaiting Chief Rabbinate approval

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 17:48

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Municipal rabbis who submitted requests to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to form conversion courts have not received an answer, a religious advocacy group told JTA.

The rabbis filed their requests in early December, a month after the Cabinet passed a government regulation to reform the conversion process, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.

“As of today, none of the rabbis who submitted requests to create courts have received answers,“ said Farber, who petitioned the Conversion Authority on Wednesday to begin implementing the Cabinet decision. “The Cabinet decision was clear: Municipal rabbis can perform conversions. Unfortunately, the Religious Ministry is refusing to uphold the law.”

The Chief Rabbinate told Israel’s Channel 2 news on Wednesday that it would appoint a legal committee to look into the validity of the Cabinet’s decision.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel. Israel’s chief rabbis have said they would not recognize conversions performed by municipal chief rabbis.

Among the rabbis who requested to form courts was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and former Shas party lawmaker Haim Amsalem, according to Farber.


Far-right German leader resigns from anti-Islam movement over Hitler selfies

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 17:39

BERLIN (JTA) — The head of a growing anti-immigrant, anti-Islam movement in Germany stepped down under pressure after photos of him dressed as Hitler appeared in the country’s most popular daily.

Lutz Bachmann quit the Pegida organization after the Bild Zeitung splashed the 2-year-old images gleaned from Facebook on its front page Wednesday.

Bachmann apologized to his followers for having damaged Pegida’s interests. The right-populist, anti-Islam political party Alternative for Germany also made a point of criticizing the photos as “tasteless.”

On Wednesday, he called the Hitler photos a mere joke.

“I took it at the barber shop for a satirical audio book called ‘He’s back,'” Bachmann said, adding that he had only been making fun of himself.

Pegida, which the Central Council of Jews in Germany recently called an “extremely dangerous” movement, was to hold one of its regular anti-immigrant demonstrations in Leipzig on Wednesday. Police expected tens of thousands of demonstrators, and potentially even more counterdemonstrators, according to several German news services.

The original plan to march in Dresden was banned due to threats of violence.

Bachmann already is under investigation in Dresden on potential charges of incitement to hate over his alleged anti-refugee comments on Facebook last September. Reportedly it was the comments and not the Hitler photo that irked other Pegida leaders.

Pegida spokeswoman Kathrin Oertel told reporters that the “Hitler selfie” was defensible as satire. But “the sweeping insults against foreigners” were no longer tolerable, she said, citing past Facebook postings in which Bachmann referred to immigrants as “brutes,” “dirt sack” and “trash.”


Deaths of two Bedouin men involving Israel Police spark riots

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 17:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The deaths of two Bedouin citizens involving Israel Police sparked riots in Arab-Israeli towns in southern Israel.

Sami al-Jaar, 20, was killed during a police drug raid in Rahat in the Negev Desert on Jan. 15. At al-Jaar’s funeral three days later, Sami Zayadna, 45, died amid a hail of rubber bullets and tear gas directed at rioting mourners. Police said they were attacked by mourners and Zayadna suffered a heart attack during the melee.

In the al-Jaar incident, police said he was not deliberately targeted and that they shot in the air after being attacked during the bust. They said al-Jaar was standing nearby and was accidentally hit. Al-Jaar’s father said he was with his son at the time and that he was deliberately targeted.

An investigation has been launched.

Along with the death of Zayadna, nearly two dozen people were injured in the rioting at his funeral, Ynet reported.

A general strike was held in Rahat and other Arab-Israeli towns on Sunday and Monday to protest the deaths. Rahat is the largest Bedouin community and the only one in Israel to be designated as a city.

Israeli human rights and Arab rights groups have accused Israel Police of using excessive force in dealing with Arabs and Bedouins.


U.S. bans its workers from Israel-Lebanon border without permission

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 15:43

JERUSALEM (JTA) — United States government workers in Israel must obtain approval if they want to travel within a mile-and-a-half of the Lebanon border.

The State Department sent a security message on Wednesday to U.S. citizens registered with the nation’s diplomatic missions in Israel. It also included a ban on visiting most of the Golan Heights without permission.

The message also reminded workers of the ban on traveling on public buses throughout Israel and the West Bank. The reminder came on the same day of a stabbing attack on a Tel Aviv bus by a Palestinian assailant.

Beth Alexander’s custody battle in Vienna generating international uproar

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 14:42

Beth Alexander and her twin boys, Benjamin and Samuel. (Times of Israel)

VIENNA (JTA) — In an apartment in the Austrian capital, Beth Alexander is deleting hundreds of photos of her 5-year-old twin boys from Facebook.

In one picture, Benjamin and Samuel are laughing as they hold a toy. In another they are waiting to be served lunch in their native Vienna.

The ordinary snapshots are the kind uploaded by countless mothers all over the world. Yet Alexander, a British-born modern Orthodox mother in her 30s, is barred from displaying them by order of an Austrian court, which in November ruled in favor of her ex-husband’s motion claiming the photos violated the twins’ privacy.

“Removing these pictures is painful to me,” Alexander told JTA this month in an interview via Skype. “They allow my family back in Britain to sort of keep in touch with the boys and they show that despite all that has been said about me, I’m a good mother and the children are happy when they are with me.”

The injunction is the latest in a series of legal setbacks that have left Alexander with restricted access to her boys and declared barely fit to be a mother — rulings that have led to mounting international criticism and claims of a colossal miscarriage of justice.

Leaders of the British and Austrian Jewish communities have spoken out about what they consider to be a highly unusual case that has unfairly limited Alexander’s maternal rights. Her case even made it to the floor of the British Parliament, where lawmakers last year described it as a Kafkaesque situation that has wrongly maligned Alexander as mentally ill and an unfit mother.

“I have no reason to assume that Alexander is in any way incapable of being a mother,” Schlomo Hofmeister, a prominent Viennese rabbi who knows the Schlesinger case well, told JTA. Hofmeister said it was tragic that the children were deprived of equal access to their mother and called on both parents to “find a time-sharing arrangement in the interest of these children, who are suffering.”

Alexander, who was known in the media by her married name, Beth Schlesinger, until she changed it recently, was separated from her husband, Michael Schlesinger, in 2009 after three years of marriage. The couple formally divorced last year.

In 2011, a court-commissioned psychologist reported that Alexander had “reduced parenting abilities” and was oblivious to her children’s “significant developmental delay.” Though the report by psychologist Ulrike Willinger also acknowledged Alexander’s “close, loving bond” with her children, it concluded that Schlesinger should receive custody.

An Austrian court agreed, awarding Schlesinger full custody and restricting Alexander’s visitation rights to a few hours every week. In 2011, four policemen removed the children from her care as Alexander was feeding them supper. It would be eight weeks until she saw the children again.

Though the Willinger report’s findings were disputed in two subsequent psychological evaluations, the court refused to reconsider its ruling. Last year, Austria’s Supreme Court rejected Alexander’s appeal without explanation.

Alexander, who has a master’s degree from Cambridge University and works in Vienna as a university lecturer and an English teacher, says her ability to fight for her rights in Austria is severely limited because she is a foreigner without local connections and at first was not fluent in German. But while she has been unsuccessful in the courts, her lobbying efforts are becoming increasingly successful in swaying public opinion in her favor.

Her case was the subject of a debate in Britain’s House of Commons last year, during which lawmaker Graham Stringer made the Kafkaesque reference and cited concerns that Schlesinger may be abusing his family’s alleged ties to justice officials.

“One has to suspect that undue influence and conspiracy were taking place,” Stringer said.

Ivan Lewis, another British lawmaker, called the Austrian justice system’s handling of the case “one of the worst miscarriages of justice,” adding that Alexander “was falsely and cruelly labeled mentally ill and an unfit mother, labels both disproved by independent professionals.”

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Jonathan Arkush, the vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, have also both spoken out on Alexander’s behalf.

Michael Schlesinger did not respond to several requests by JTA to be interviewed for this article. The couple are no longer in contact, the result of a spiteful breakup during which Schlesinger was removed from the couple’s home on police orders after he sought, unsuccessfully, to have his wife committed to a mental institute.

As a result of the legal battle, Alexander said she cannot meet with journalists at her home lest her ex-husband use such meetings for further litigation.

As she continues to fight in court and lobby for more time with her twins, Alexander uses the time she has with them to compensate for her absence from their daily lives with activities like baking, going to the park, reading stories, and arts and crafts.

“I have to make up in one day what other mothers may do with their children in a week,” Alexander said.

Jewish boy, 13, assaulted near Paris

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 14:38

(JTA) — A 13-year-old Jewish boy was maced near Paris in what a watchdog group said was an anti-Semitic assault by three unidentified minors.

The incident occurred Tuesday evening in Le Pre-Saint-Gervais, a northeastern suburb of Paris, according to a report published Wednesday on the website of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

The attackers, who appeared to be of North African descent, identified the boy as Jewish because he wore a kipah and tzitzit, according to the BNVCA report, which was based on the testimony of an eyewitness. One of the assailants sprayed the boy’s eye with mace, or possibly pepper spray, before fleeing with the other two.

Rendered temporarily blind, the boy was rushed to a nearby clinic for medical treatment. He suffered intense pain for about 30 minutes after the attack, BNVCA said.

Police, alerted to the incident by BNVCA, collected depositions from the witness and the victim, BNVCA wrote.

The attack is part of a surge in anti-Semitic incidents in France that has been ongoing since 2012, BNVCA wrote, and which led to the death of 12 people at the hands of French jihadists targeting Jews.

“The situation is becoming increasingly intolerable,” the BNVCA wrote in the report about the 13-year-old victim, who was not named. “A child of 13, as he is about to celebrate bar mitzvah, knows nothing but the climate of fear and insecurity as a result of anti-Semitism.”

Portugal poised to adopt Jewish return law

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 14:19

(JTA) — Portugal’s law on naturalizing descendants of Sephardic Jews could become effective before March 15, a leader of the country’s Jewish community said.

The law, passed by parliament in 2013, is expected to be approved by Portugal’s Council of Ministers on Thursday, the president of Lisbon’s Jewish community, Jose Oulman Carp, told JTA. The final wording is to be published by Feb. 6, he said.

“We expect the law to be effective by mid-February or the beginning of March 2015,” Oulman Carp added.

According to the legislation, “the government will give nationality … to Sephardic Jews of Portuguese ancestry who belong to a tradition of a Portuguese-descended Sephardic community, based on objective prerequisites proving a connection to Portugal through names, language and ancestry.”

Oulman Carp said it also will apply to non-Jewish descendants of Sephardim, Oulman Carp said.

Existing legislation on the naturalization of Sephardim has not been applied because it still does not contain regulations for bureaucrats, which may be published along with the final letter of the law.

The authors described the legislation as an act of atonement for the expulsion of Portuguese Jewry in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. Similar legislation is underway in Spain, where it awaits a final vote in Congress. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Iberia from 1492 on because of Church-led persecution.

In both countries, legislators and government officials said Jewish communities would be consulted and perhaps made partially in charge of screening applicants. The Jewish community of Lisbon, where the vast majority of Portugal’s 800 Jews live, has rejected applications because the final letter of the law has not yet been published, Oulman Carp said.

“Most of the applications will be channeled through the local Portuguese consulate of the applicant’s country of residence,” he said.

The significantly smaller Jewish community of Porto, however, announced last month in a statement that it was already receiving applications and that the first applicant was an American former model and descendant of Joseph Karo, a renowned rabbi who lived in the 15th century in the Iberian Peninsula. She was not named.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism selling its real estate

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 13:15

Rabbi Steven Wernick, United Synagogue’s CEO, said his organization will invest the proceeds of the sale “in people, in innovation, and in our kehillot, our sacred communities.” (Courtesy of United Synagogue)

NEW YORK (JTA) – The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is selling its New York office.

The organization announced Wednesday that it signed a contract last month to sell its two-floor condo in midtown Manhattan for $15.9 million. Proceeds from the sale of the Second Avenue property will go toward paying down its debt, renting new office space and establishing a foundation to fund ongoing programs, United Synagogue said.

United Synagogue is the 102-year-old congregational arm of the Conservative movement. It has taken a financial hit in recent years as Conservative synagogues have shut down, merged with other Conservative or Reform congregations, or pulled out of the congregational group for practical, financial or ideological reasons. The group now has about 600 member synagogues, down from 630 synagogues in 2013 and 675 in 2009. In 1985, it had about 850 synagogues.

In 2011 and 2012, United Synagogue ran a cumulative budget deficit of $6 million, and for the last two fiscal years the cumulative deficit has amounted to about $2.8 million. This year’s projected budget deficit is $600,000, a spokeswoman told JTA.

In 2013, United Synagogue said it was shutting down Koach, the movement’s college outreach organization. And not long ago the Conservative movement’s network of Solomon Schechter schools, which has seen its own ranks shrink over the last decade and a half from 63 schools to about 40, dropped its affiliation with United Synagogue.

In a statement, the United Synagogue described the sale of its office as part of a strategy adopted three years ago to cut expenses, expand philanthropic support and focus on core functions to meet the needs of member congregations.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, United Synagogue’s CEO, said owning real estate is not essential to the organization’s core mission.

“We’ll invest these resources instead in people, in innovation, and in our kehillot, our sacred communities, with whom we are reimagining Judaism for the 21st century,” Wernick said in a statement.

A United Synagogue spokeswoman, Andrea Glick, said the organization was planning to rent office space in lower Manhattan. That would put it even farther from the flagship institution of the movement, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which is located in upper Manhattan, near Harlem.

Asked whether United Synagogue considered moving its staff of about 50 to JTS, Glick said only that United Synagogue explored many alternatives, including the Interfaith Center of New York and sharing space with other Jewish organizations.

“Either space was not available or did not meet our needs,” Glick said.

Under New York state law, the office sale must be approved by a vote of member congregations; that will take place in February or March, United Synagogue said. If approved, the move likely would take place in August or September.

Board members plan to spend a significant portion of the proceeds from the office’s sale to create a “Fund for the Future,” that will “support USCJ’s congregational programs, seed innovative initiatives, and provide capital reserves,” the organization’s statement said.

Italian Jewish community rejects fee to enter former Nazi camp

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:48

ROME (JTA) — The Jewish community in Trieste is protesting a suggestion by an official in the Italian municipality to charge an entry fee to a former concentration camp there.

Mauro Tabor, a representative from Trieste on the national board of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said Tuesday that he would meet with the mayor and the city commissioner to tell them that an entrance fee to visit Risiera di San Sabba would be a mistake.

Entrance to the five-story brick compound currently is free, though donations are requested.

Paolo Tassinari, the cultural affairs chief in Trieste, in interviews on Sunday with the local media proposed charging an entrance fee to visit Risiera di San Sabba, which served as a Nazi camp during World War. More than 3,000 people were killed in the Nazi camp located a few miles from the center of Trieste, which is near the border with Slovenia.

Risiera served as a detention facility for the killing of political prisoners and as a transit camp for Jews, most of whom were deported to Auschwitz.

“Risiera di San Sabba is a cemetery and a point of reference for past and future generations,” Tabor said. “No economic issues are possible to discuss; people should be permitted to visit the site for free. This proposal shocks me and I hope that Mayor Roberto Cosolini will reject it with clear words.”

In an interview with the Il Piccolo newspaper, Tassinari noted that visitors to the camp last year gave 16,000 euros in donations (about $18,600), “so those who want to visit Risiera are willing to pay.”

“My idea is to charge the entrance fee in order to reach the goal of making it a European place to mark the memory of the Shoah,” Tassinari said.

In response to the suggestion, Tabor said the Trieste Jewish community is mulling the idea of leaving the national and international board dedicated to activities at Risiera — including ceremonies, visits and projects with schools — and launching an independent board with the National Association of the Italian Partisans and the National Association of Italian Political Deportees, or ANED.

UNESCO Holocaust exhibition nixed following Latvian protests

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:09

(JTA) — Latvian officials prevented the opening of an exhibition about the Holocaust that Russia wanted to host at a United Nations building.

The exposition, titled “Stolen childhood: Holocaust victims Seen by Child Inmates of Salaspils Nazi Concentration Camp,” was canceled following objections by Latvian officials to its scheduled opening on Sunday at the Paris seat of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a UNESCO spokesman told JTA on Wednesday.

The exposition’s curator, historian Alexander Dioukov, told RIA Novosti that Latvia’s chief delegate to UNESCO, Sanita Pavluta-Deslandes, said the exposition risked damaging her country’s image during its presidency of the European Union, which the Baltic country assumed on Jan. 1 and will hold until July. 1.

Dioukov, who heads the Historical Memory association, said the exposition was co-sponsored by the UNESCO missions of Russia and Belarus.

UNESCO policy gives member states veto powers over events organized by other member states, a UNESCO spokesman told JTA.

“It wasn’t UNESCO’s decision to cancel, it was simply protocol,” spokesman Roni Amelan said. “Latvia opposed an exhibition by the Russian Federation that included photos from a concentration camp in Latvia.”

In an unsigned email to JTA, Latvia’s delegation to UNESCO said it offered to its Russian counterpart “to cooperate in order to organize in the future the event devoted to Holocaust remembrance, including by showing the film ‘The Controversial History’ about Latvia’s inhabitants, Holocaust survivors, Salaspils concentration camp survivors [and] Soviet deportation survivors.”

The email author did not answer JTA’s question as to why Latvia opposed the “Stolen childhood” exhibition.

Speaking to the LETA news agency on Wednesday, Karlis Eihenbaums, a spokesman for the Latvian Foreign Ministry, confirmed Riga’s opposition to the exhibition, adding that Dioukov “expressed openly hostile and unfriendly statements about Latvia and its people.”

Long burdened by bitter memories of Russia’s occupation of Latvia and Latvian complicity in Nazi war crimes during World War II, the two countries have had a tense relationship. Latvian leaders often have accused Moscow of expansionism and equated Nazism to communism despite protests by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish groups.

In turn, Moscow hit back at what it called government support for the popular glorification of Nazi Latvians, including some who murdered Jews.

Boehner invites Netanyahu to address Congress on Iran

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:21

WASHINGTON (JTA) — House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to both chambers of Congress on Iran and radical Islam.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Wednesday.

“In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”

Israeli reporters on Twitter quoted Netanyahu’s office as saying that the prime minister had accepted the invitation.

Boehner’s letter to Netanyahu said the invitation was on behalf of the “bipartisan leadership” of Congress. A staffer in the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority House of Representatives leader, said Boehner did not consult with Pelosi.

Netanyahu would speak Feb. 11, according to the letter, just a month before Israeli elections. It would be his third address to Congress; he also spoke in May 2011 and in July 1996. Other prime ministers, including Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin, have addressed Congress, as did the late Israeli President Chaim Herzog.

The appearance by Netanyahu would be the first so close to an Israeli election.

The White House criticized the invitation. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Wednesday’s regular daily briefing that the invitation was a breach of diplomatic protocol. “Such invitations are usually made leader to leader,” he said.

The White House was not aware that an invitation has been extended to Netanyahu until Wednesday morning when Boehner’s office announced it in a statement. Earnest said that the Obama administration “will reserve judgment on the trip until we hear from Israel officially.”

Boehner’s invitation comes a day after President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he would veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, which Netanyahu has called for as a means of pressuring Iran in talks underway between the Islamic Republic and the major powers.

Republicans and a number of Democrats, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are seeking to pass the new sanctions.

Ex-cop suing NYPD for anti-Semitic harassment

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 10:42

NEW YORK (JTA) – An Orthodox Jewish man is suing the New York Police Department for anti-Semitic harassment that he says compelled him to quit his job as a cop.

David Attali, who has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, claims that fellow police officers vandalized his locker with anti-Semitic messages, called him a “dirty Jew,” and greeted him with Heil Hitler salutes and hostile text messages, according to the New York Daily News. He is suing the department, five police officers from his precinct and four supervisors, according to the report.

He requested to transfer out of his World Trade Center police command, but supervisors refused and failed to do anything about the harassment, according to the lawsuit.

Attali, 31 and a six-year veteran of the force, reported the problems to the NYPD’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity last May. The office said that while it could confirm his locker was vandalized, it could not substantiate his allegations of verbal abuse and harassment via text message, the Daily News reported.

Stressed by the harassment, Attali decided to quit the force in August, his lawyer told the newspaper. The lawyer also said that Attali kept evidence of the harassment, including secret audio recordings and logs of offensive text messages.

An NYPD spokeswoman was quoted in the report as saying that any investigation of the incidents is confidential.

Former Warsaw Ghetto fighters protest memorial’s placement

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:40

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Simcha Rotem and another Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighter are protesting the placement of a monument to righteous gentiles in the former ghetto.

An open letter signed by Rotem and Pnina Grynszpan Frymer was published Wednesday on jewish.org.pl, a Jewish community Web portal, and sent to Poland’s president and the mayor of Warsaw.

The monument will be situated next to the newly dedicated Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Rotem, the recipient of one of Poland’s highest honors, and Frymer wrote that they were “shaken” by the news of the location, which they said has “raised protests worldwide.”

“The Republic of Poland, our first homeland, has bestowed upon us medals for our relentless fight against the Nazi occupier. In this fight, we were often alone, but we have survived the Holocaust,” they wrote. “We are also alive today because of help received from the Righteous Poles. However, we fail to understand why such a monument should be erected on the grounds where hundreds of thousands of people died a lonely death before any help arrived.”

Rotem and Frymer, who both live in Jerusalem, asked President Bronisław Komorowski to create in that area of the former ghetto “a protected zone of memory, similar to the protective zones in Auschwitz and Birkenau.”

The Remembrance and Future Foundation, which plans to build the monument to the Righteous Among the Nations, was founded in 2013 by Sigmund Rolat. An official announcement of the project is scheduled for Feb. 4.

Rotem, an honorary citizen of Warsaw, was recognized in 2013 with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Adaptation of classic Yiddish tale wins top Sydney Taylor award

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 08:46

BOSTON (JTA) — A new adaptation of a classic Yiddish tale and folk song is among the winners of this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards for children’s books.

The awards, which are presented annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries, also went to a graphic novel and a retelling of the Noah story for teens, the association said in a statement this week.

“My Grandfather’s Coat,” by Jim Aylesworth and illustrated by Barbara McClintock, took the coveted prize in the younger readers category. The story is about a young girl who narrates the life of her immigrant tailor grandfather, all in rhyming verse, and was adapted from a traditional Yiddish song. As his handmade coat becomes worn, it gains a new life as a jacket, a vest, a tie and later a toy for a grandchild.

“Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust,” by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, won in the older reader category. The graphic-style novel, which features colorful cartoon-like illustrations, reveals a grandmother’s story of how she and her mother were kept alive through the Holocaust with the help of courageous neighbors and families.

In “Storm,” a novel by Donna Jo Napoli that won in the teen category, a teenage girl stows away on Noah’s ark and provides a behind-the-scenes look at Noah, his family and the animals they cared for in close quarters.

Six honor books and 16 notable books also won awards, which will be presented in June.

The awards are named for Sydney Taylor, author of the classic “All of A Kind Series,” the tales of an immigrant Jewish American family originally published in the 1950s. The sequels were reissued recently by Lizzie Skurnick Books.

Report: French police foiled terrorist plot on anti-Semitism forum

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 08:19

(JTA) — Suspected jihadists arrested last year in Lyon were planning to carry out a terrorist attack at a Jewish group’s conference on anti-Semitism.

The five suspects who were arrested in a series of sweeps by French police from Sept. 16 to Sept. 18 were planning to strike on Sept. 18 at an event organized in Lyon by the regional branch of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, according to a report Tuesday in the Le Progres daily.

An unnamed police officer who was in charge of the investigation confirmed to Le Progres that the suspects were arrested following the interception of a Sept. 5 telephone conversation in which they discussed their plans.

Among the five arrested are Karim and Reda Bekhaled, brothers who are believed to have been involved in recruiting radical Muslims to fight in Syria, along with the remaining three suspects. Reda Bekhaled was heard discussing the plans in the recorded conversation.

The police officer said the brothers “had the ambition of dying as martyrs” and “planned to carry out imminently an act of violence.”

On Jan. 9, Amedy Coulibaly, another suspected jihadist, killed four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket outside Paris where he held 19 people hostage for several hours before police stormed the building and killed him. The attack was part of a string of terrorist acts committed by Coulibaly and two accomplices who on Jan. 7 murdered 12 at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo weekly for its ridicule of Islam.

Coulibaly and the two brothers were part of a cell that also recruited jihadists to fight in Syria, French police said.

Italian neo-Nazis convicted for racist, anti-Semitic activities

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 08:02

ROME (JTA) — Two leaders of Militia were among six members of the Italian neo-Nazi group convicted for racist and anti-Semitic activities.

A  Rome court convicted the men on Tuesday. They were sentenced to prison terms of eight to 18 months.

Among those charged were Maurizio Boccacci and Stefano Schiavulli, who were directly responsible for many hate incidents against Jewish targets. They also attempted to reconstitute the Fascist Party.

Militia recently had publicly marked the anniversary of the death of Erich Priebke, an SS captain convicted of war crimes for participating in the massacre at the Ardeatine caves in Rome on March 24,1944. Priebke died in October 2013.

During a hearing last March, Schiavulli also threatened Rome Jewish community leader Riccardo Pacifici.

Last August, Militia called for a boycott of Jewish-owned stores through a massive poster campaign.

Four men to be indicted for aiding Paris kosher shop killer

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 07:25

(JTA) — Four men accused of aiding the hostage taker at a kosher supermarket near Paris who killed four will be indicted, a French justice official said.

Three of the men, all in their 20s, purchased materials for Amedy Coulibaly, Paris Prosecutor François Molins said during a news conference Wednesday. Another drove a vehicle for Coulibaly.

“They were part of a criminal terrorist organization,” Molins said of the suspects, who are in police custody.

One of the men allegedly supplied an automatic weapon to Coulibaly, who was killed on Jan. 9 after police stormed the Hyper Cacher supermarket where he was holding 19 hostages for several hours. Coulibaly killed four Jewish men during the first hour of the siege.

Coulibaly, who on Jan. 8 killed a police officer south of Paris, planned his attack together with Cherif and Said Kouachi, two brothers who killed 12 people at the offices the Charlie Hebdo weekly, which published many caricatures lampooning Islam. They were killed in a separate police raid near Paris on Jan. 9. In total, the three murdered 17 people.

The Kouachis and Coulibaly are believed to have been part of the same terror cell, which according to French authorities was recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria. Police are looking for a fourth accomplice who may have participated in the actual attacks and is not among the four men in custody, according to Jean-Michel Decugis, the police correspondent for the i-Tele network.

“They were in charge of logistics, one provided a car, the other a weapon,” Decugis said.

At least one of the suspects confirmed that he aided Coulibaly, Decugis said, but all are denying that they knew he intended to commit a terrorist attack.

A total of 12 people were arrested last week on suspicion of helping the Kouachis and Coulibaly, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

North Korean gulag survivor honored by Jewish groups recants escape testimony

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 06:51

(JTA) — A human rights activist who was honored by Jewish groups for denouncing North Korea’s system of gulags recanted key parts of his testimony about escaping from one.

The change in Shin Dong-hyuk’s testimony about escaping from the high-security Camp 14 was announced Jan. 17 by Blaine Harden, an American writer who in 2012 authored a book about Shin’s alleged escape.

Some of the events that Shin said occurred in Camp 14 – where he had said he was born and lived until his 2005 escape – actually happened in the less draconian Camp 18, which Shin omitted from his biography, the Washington Post reported.

Shin, 32, revised his story after the appearance online last year of a video containing an interview with Shin’s father in which the father said that his son never lived in a political prison camp and that his testimony was false.

The Harden book about Shin was translated into 27 languages. Its publication made Shin one of the world’s most notable activists against human rights abuses in North Korea because he was the only person to reach the West with what appeared to be credible accounts from that gulag.

“From a human rights perspective, he was still brutally tortured, but he moved things around,” said Harden, a former Washington Post journalist who first wrote Shin’s story for the newspaper in 2008.

Shin has recounted his testimony before Jewish groups, including during five visits to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and a meeting with survivors in 2009 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In an interview with JTA, he expressed an interest in learning more about the Holocaust.

He now claims to have tried to escape three times: two failed attempts from Camp 18 in 1999 and 2005, followed by a successful break in 2005 from Camp 14, where he says he was transferred after the earlier attempts.

Shin also maintains that he was born in Camp 14 but was moved to Camp 18 at the age of 6 with his mother and brother. It was there, after learning of his mother and brother’s escape plans, that he betrayed them to the authorities, Shin told Harden. It was also in Camp 18, he said, that he witnessed their executions, not in Camp 14 as he previously said.


At least 12 injured, four critically, in stabbing spree on Tel Aviv bus

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 03:49

Medics evacuating an Israeli man injured in a stabbing attack on a Tel Aviv bus, Jan. 21, 2015. (Flash90)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — At least 12 people were wounded, some seriously, when a Palestinian man stabbed passengers and the driver on a Tel Aviv bus.

Four victims, including the driver, remained in serious condition following the Wednesday morning attack on the No. 40 bus. Initial reports said 12 to 21 people were injured.

The assailant was shot in the leg by a commander in the Israel Prison Service who was at the scene of the attack and apprehended by police. Video of the attack was later posted on YouTube.

Police identified the assailant as Hamza Muhammed Hasan Matrouk, 23, from the West Bank city of Tulkarem who had entered Israel illegally, according to media reports.

The attack was the first in Tel Aviv since a soldier was killed in a stabbing attack at a train station in November.

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Prison Service members who stopped Wednesday’s attacker and drew a link between the incident and recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium.

“The attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement spread by the Palestinian Authority toward the Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said. “The same terror tries to harm us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere.”

According to Israeli reports, the attacker boarded the bus at approximately 7:15 a.m. and began stabbing passengers soon afterward. The driver, Herzl Biton, 55, sprayed the assailant with pepper spray as he was being stabbed, slowing him down and aiding the Prison Service employees in stopping him as he fled the scene.

“We identified in the area of the Maariv Bridge a large gathering, and people crying for help. After an initial assessment, we understood it was a terrorist incident,” said Prison Service Commander Benny Botershvili, who shot the attacker, according to the Times of Israel. “I and a team of three Nachshon fighters identified the terrorist and chased after him. We shot toward his legs, the terrorist collapsed and fell, we handcuffed him and waited for the police to arrive.”

Liel Suissa, an eighth-grader on his way to school, told the Israeli daily Israel Hayom that he broke a bus window to escape the attack after the stabbing began. He said the assailant continued chasing after people as they escaped the bus.

“Suddenly the terrorist came and began stabbing people,” Suissa said, according to Israel Hayom. “We all went to the back, and most of the people piled onto me. I sat in the bus and heard people screaming. He turned around in the bus and suddenly went to the driver and stabbed him.”

Tel Aviv Police Commander Bentzi Sau called the attack a “nationalist incident” and praised Biton’s “excellent reaction” to the stabbing. He said the police are investigating whether the attacker had any accomplices.

Hamas officials praised the attack as “heroic and courageous,” according to Israeli reports. Hamas said it was a “natural reaction of sons of the Palestinian nation to the crimes of the cruel Zionist occupier.”

(Israel correspondent Marcy Oster contributed to this report.)

Australian Press Council: anti-Israel cartoon breached standards

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 03:36

(JTA) — An Australian press organization has judged that a cartoon published in The Sydney Morning Herald violated press Standards of Practice by the way it linked symbols of the Jewish faith to criticism of Israel.

The adjudication, issued by the Australian Press Council, concerned a cartoon drawn by Glen Le Lievre and published by the Morning Herald on July 26, in the midst of the most recent Gaza conflict. The cartoon depicted an elderly man with a sizable nose wearing glasses and a yarmulke, reclining in a chair emblazoned with a Star of David, and holding a remote control while watching from hilltop as a city, which by implication is Gaza, explodes.

Le Lievre is an internationally published cartoonist whose work has appeared in publications including The New Yorker, Reader’s Digest, and Mad Magazine.

In the adjudication issued Jan. 17, the Press Council states, “A linkage with Israeli nationality might have been justifiable in the public interest, despite being likely to cause offense. But the same cannot be said of the implied linkage with the Jewish faith that arose from inclusion of the kippah and the Star of David.”

In response to the adjudication, the Morning Herald republished an apology that it originally published on Aug. 3, 2014, one week after the cartoon originally ran. That apology likewise regretted the use of the religious symbols of the yarmulke and Star of David, although it noted that Le Lievre’s work commonly depicts people with large noses, regardless of race or ethnicity, and that the image was inspired by news photographs of Israelis watching the bombardment of Gaza from the hilltops of Sderot.

The Press Council’s statement praised the apology and noted that the Morning Herald’s editor in chief and news director had attended “seminars facilitated by the Jewish Board of Deputies to raise awareness about imagery that could be construed as anti-Semitic.”